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Caffeine Content and Related Gene Expression: Novel Insight into Caffeine Metabolism in Camellia Plants Containing Low, Normal, and High Caffeine Concentrations

Zhu, Biying, Chen, Lin-Bo, Lu, Mengqian, Zhang, Jing, Han, Jieyun, Deng, Wei-Wei, Zhang, Zheng-Zhu
Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 2019 v.67 no.12 pp. 3400-3411
Camellia sinensis, biosynthesis, breeding, caffeine, gene expression, genes, isotope labeling, leaves, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry, polymerase chain reaction, sequence analysis, tea, theobromine, transcriptome, transcriptomics
Caffeine is a crucial secondary metabolic product in tea plants. Although the presence of caffeine in tea plants has been identified, the molecular mechanisms regulating relevant caffeine metabolism remain unclear. For the elucidation of the caffeine biosynthesis and catabolism in Camellia plants, fresh, germinated leaves from four Camellia plants with low (2), normal (1), and high (1) caffeine concentrations, namely, low-caffeine tea 1 (LCT1, Camellia crassicolumna), low-caffeine tea 2 (LCT2, C. crassicolumna), Shuchazao (SCZ, C. sinensis), and Yunkang 43 (YK43, C. sinensis) were used in this research. Transcriptome and purine alkaloids analyses of these Camellia leaves were performed using RNA-Seq and liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC–MS). Moreover, ¹⁵N-caffeine tracing was performed to determine the metabolic fate of caffeine in leaves of these plants. Caffeine content was correlated with related gene expression levels, and a quantitative real-time (qRT) PCR analysis of specific genes showed a consistent tendency with the obtained transcriptomic analysis. On the basis of the results of stable isotope-labeled tracer experiments, we discovered a degradation pathway of caffeine to theobromine. These findings could assist researchers in understanding the caffeine-related mechanisms in Camellia plants containing low, normal, and high caffeine content and be applied to caffeine regulation and breeding improvement in future research.