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Open Access Research article

Relative expression of genes of terpene metabolism in different tissues of Artemisia annua L

Linda Olofsson, Alexander Engström, Anneli Lundgren and Peter E Brodelius*

Author Affiliations

School of Natural Sciences, Linnaeus University, SE-39182 Kalmar, Sweden

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:45  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-45

Published: 9 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Recently, Artemisia annua L. (annual or sweet wormwood) has received increasing attention due to the fact that the plant produces the sesquiterpenoid endoperoxide artemisinin, which today is widely used for treatment of malaria. The plant produces relatively small amounts of artemisinin and a worldwide shortage of the drug has led to intense research in order to increase the yield of artemisinin. In order to improve our understanding of terpene metabolism in the plant and to evaluate the competition for precursors, which may influence the yield of artemisinin, we have used qPCR to estimate the expression of 14 genes of terpene metabolism in different tissues.

Results

The four genes of the artemisinin biosynthetic pathway (amorpha-4,11-diene synthase, amorphadiene-12-hydroxylase, artemisinic aldehyde ∆11(13) reductase and aldehyde dehydrogenase 1) showed remarkably higher expression (between ~40- to ~500-fold) in flower buds and young leaves compared to other tissues (old leaves, stems, roots, hairy root cultures). Further, dihydroartemisinic aldehyde reductase showed a very high expression only in hairy root cultures. Germacrene A and caryophyllene synthase were mostly expressed in young leaves and flower buds while epi-cedrol synthase was highly expressed in old leaves. 3-Hydroxy-3-methyl-glutaryl coenzyme A reductase exhibited lower expression in old leaves compared to other tissues. Farnesyldiphosphate synthase, squalene synthase, and 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate reductoisomerase showed only modest variation in expression in the different tissues, while expression of 1-deoxy-D-xylulose-5-phosphate synthase was 7-8-fold higher in flower buds and young leaves compared to old leaves.

Conclusions

Four genes of artemisinin biosynthesis were highly expressed in flower buds and young leaves (tissues showing a high density of glandular trichomes). The expression of dihydroartemisinic aldehyde reductase has been suggested to have a negative effect on artemisinin production through reduction of dihydroartemisinic aldehyde to dihydroartemisinic alcohol. However, our results show that this enzyme is expressed only at low levels in tissues producing artemisinin and consequently its effect on artemisinin production may be limited. Finally, squalene synthase but not other sesquiterpene synthases appears to be a significant competitor for farnesyl diphosphate in artemisinin-producing tissues.