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Bitter acids (e.g. humulone) are prenylated polyketides synthesized in lupulin glands of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus) which are important contributors to the bitter flavour and stability of beer.
Bitter acids (e.g. humulone) are prenylated polyketides synthesized in lupulin glands of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus) which are important contributors to the bitter flavour and stability of beer. Bitter acids are formed from acyl-CoA precursors derived from branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) degradation and C5 prenyl diphosphates from the methyl-D-erythritol 4-phosphate (MEP) pathway. We used RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) to obtain the transcriptomes of isolated lupulin glands, cones with glands removed and leaves from high alpha-acid hop cultivars, and analyzed these datasets for genes involved in bitter acid biosynthesis including the supply of major precursors. We also measured the levels of BCAAs, acyl-CoA intermediates, and bitter acids in glands, cones and leaves.
Transcripts encoding all the enzymes of BCAA metabolism were significantly more abundant in lupulin glands, indicating that BCAA biosynthesis and subsequent degradation occurs in these specialized cells. Branched-chain acyl-CoAs and bitter acids were present at higher levels in glands compared with leaves and cones. RNA-seq analysis showed the gland-specific expression of the MEP pathway, enzymes of sucrose degradation and several transcription factors that may regulate bitter acid biosynthesis in glands. Two branched-chain aminotransferase (BCAT) enzymes, HlBCAT1 and HlBCAT2, were abundant, with gene expression quantification by RNA-seq and qRT-PCR indicating that HlBCAT1 was specific to glands while HlBCAT2 was present in glands, cones and leaves. Recombinant HlBCAT1 and HlBCAT2 catalyzed forward (biosynthetic) and reverse (catabolic) reactions with similar kinetic parameters. HlBCAT1 is targeted to mitochondria where it likely plays a role in BCAA catabolism. HlBCAT2 is a plastidial enzyme likely involved in BCAA biosynthesis. Phylogenetic analysis of the hop BCATs and those from other plants showed that they group into distinct biosynthetic (plastidial) and catabolic (mitochondrial) clades.
Our analysis of the hop transcriptome significantly expands the genomic resources available for this agriculturally-important crop. This study provides evidence for the lupulin gland-specific biosynthesis of BCAAs and prenyl diphosphates to provide precursors for the production of bitter acids. The biosynthetic pathway leading to BCAAs in lupulin glands involves the plastidial enzyme, HlBCAT2. The mitochondrial enzyme HlBCAT1 degrades BCAAs as the first step in the catabolic pathway leading to branched chain-acyl-CoAs.
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