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Open Access Research article

Regulation of fruit ascorbic acid concentrations during ripening in high and low vitamin C tomato cultivars

Ifigeneia Mellidou1, Johan Keulemans1, Angelos K Kanellis2 and Mark W Davey1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory for Fruit Breeding and Biotechnology, Department of Biosystems, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, B-3001, Heverlee, Belgium

2 Group of Biotechnology of Pharmaceutical Plants. Laboratory of Pharmacognosy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 541 24, Thessaloniki, Greece

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BMC Plant Biology 2012, 12:239  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-239

Published: 17 December 2012

Abstract

Background

To gain insight into the regulation of fruit ascorbic acid (AsA) pool in tomatoes, a combination of metabolite analyses, non-labelled and radiolabelled substrate feeding experiments, enzyme activity measurements and gene expression studies were carried out in fruits of the ‘low-’ and ‘high-AsA’ tomato cultivars ‘Ailsa Craig’ and ‘Santorini’ respectively.

Results

The two cultivars exhibited different profiles of total AsA (totAsA, AsA + dehydroascorbate) and AsA accumulation during ripening, but both displayed a characteristic peak in concentrations at the breaker stage. Substrate feeding experiments demonstrated that the L-galactose pathway is the main AsA biosynthetic route in tomato fruits, but that substrates from alternative pathways can increase the AsA pool at specific developmental stages. In addition, we show that young fruits display a higher AsA biosynthetic capacity than mature ones, but this does not lead to higher AsA concentrations due to either enhanced rates of AsA breakdown (‘Ailsa Craig’) or decreased rates of AsA recycling (‘Santorini’), depending on the cultivar. In the later stages of ripening, differences in fruit totAsA-AsA concentrations of the two cultivars can be explained by differences in the rate of AsA recycling activities. Analysis of the expression of AsA metabolic genes showed that only the expression of one orthologue of GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase (SlGGP1), and of two monodehydroascorbate reductases (SlMDHAR1 and SlMDHAR3) correlated with the changes in fruit totAsA-AsA concentrations during fruit ripening in ‘Ailsa Craig’, and that only the expression of SlGGP1 was linked to the high AsA concentrations found in red ripe ‘Santorini’ fruits.

Conclusions

Results indicate that ‘Ailsa Craig’ and ‘Santorini’ use complementary mechanisms to maintain the fruit AsA pool. In the low-AsA cultivar (‘Ailsa Craig’), alternative routes of AsA biosynthesis may supplement biosynthesis via L-galactose, while in the high-AsA cultivar (‘Santorini’), enhanced AsA recycling activities appear to be responsible for AsA accumulation in the later stages of ripening. Gene expression studies indicate that expression of SlGGP1 and two orthologues of SlMDHAR are closely correlated with totAsA-AsA concentrations during ripening and are potentially good candidates for marker development for breeding and selection.

Keywords:
Ascorbate biosynthesis; Ascorbate recycling; Ascorbate turnover; Candidate gene; GDP-L-galactose phosphorylase; Gene expression; Monodehydroascorbate reductase