Open Access Research article

Exploring the evolutionary route of the acquisition of betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase activity by plant ALDH10 enzymes: implications for the synthesis of the osmoprotectant glycine betaine

Rosario A Muñoz-Clares1*, Héctor Riveros-Rosas2, Georgina Garza-Ramos2, Lilian González-Segura1, Carlos Mújica-Jiménez1 and Adriana Julián-Sánchez2

Author Affiliations

1 Departamento de Bioquímica, Facultad de Química, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México D.F., México

2 Departamento de Bioquímica, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México D.F., México

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Plant Biology 2014, 14:149  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-14-149

Published: 29 May 2014



Plant ALDH10 enzymes are aminoaldehyde dehydrogenases (AMADHs) that oxidize different ω-amino or trimethylammonium aldehydes, but only some of them have betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase (BADH) activity and produce the osmoprotectant glycine betaine (GB). The latter enzymes possess alanine or cysteine at position 441 (numbering of the spinach enzyme, SoBADH), while those ALDH10s that cannot oxidize betaine aldehyde (BAL) have isoleucine at this position. Only the plants that contain A441- or C441-type ALDH10 isoenzymes accumulate GB in response to osmotic stress. In this work we explored the evolutionary history of the acquisition of BAL specificity by plant ALDH10s.


We performed extensive phylogenetic analyses and constructed and characterized, kinetically and structurally, four SoBADH variants that simulate the parsimonious intermediates in the evolutionary pathway from I441-type to A441- or C441-type enzymes. All mutants had a correct folding, average thermal stabilities and similar activity with aminopropionaldehyde, but whereas A441S and A441T exhibited significant activity with BAL, A441V and A441F did not. The kinetics of the mutants were consistent with their predicted structural features obtained by modeling, and confirmed the importance of position 441 for BAL specificity. The acquisition of BADH activity could have happened through any of these intermediates without detriment of the original function or protein stability. Phylogenetic studies showed that this event occurred independently several times during angiosperms evolution when an ALDH10 gene duplicate changed the critical Ile residue for Ala or Cys in two consecutive single mutations. ALDH10 isoenzymes frequently group in two clades within a plant family: one includes peroxisomal I441-type, the other peroxisomal and non-peroxisomal I441-, A441- or C441-type. Interestingly, high GB-accumulators plants have non-peroxisomal A441- or C441-type isoenzymes, while low-GB accumulators have the peroxisomal C441-type, suggesting some limitations in the peroxisomal GB synthesis.


Our findings shed light on the evolution of the synthesis of GB in plants, a metabolic trait of most ecological and physiological relevance for their tolerance to drought, hypersaline soils and cold. Together, our results are consistent with smooth evolutionary pathways for the acquisition of the BADH function from ancestral I441-type AMADHs, thus explaining the relatively high occurrence of this event.

Osmoprotection; Osmotic stress; Aminoaldehyde dehydrogenase; Enzyme kinetics; Substrate specificity; Enzyme subcellular location; Protein stability; Protein structure; Protein evolution