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5.4.4 - Key transfer events in sugar metabolism and compartmentation

Phloem-imported sucrose can reach the cytoplasm of recipient sink cells chemically unaltered or be hydrolysed en route by extracellular invertase into its hexose moieties. These sugars may then enter a number of metabolic pathways or be compartmented to vacuolar storage (Figure 5.25).


Figure 5.25. Pathways of sugar metabolism and compartmentation within sink cells. Sugars can be delivered to sink cells through either apoplasmic or symplasmic pathways. Within the sink apoplasm, sucrose can be hydrolysed to hexoses by an extracellular invertase. Apoplasmic sugars are transported across plasma membranes of sink cells by proton/ sugar symporters. Alternatively, sucrose enters the sink cytoplasm through a symplasmic path. Within the sink cytoplasm, sucrose can be hydrolysed or compartmented into vacuolar storage. Sucrose hydrolysis provides substrates for energy metabolism or for synthesis of macro-molecules. Invertase activity is important to sustain hexose supply for glycolysis. Sucrose synthesis from the hexose pool is catalysed by sucrose phosphate synthase (SPS). Degradation of sucrose by sucrose synthase generates fructose and uridine diphosphate glucose (UDP-glucose) which enters various biosynthetic pathways including cellulose and starch synthesis. In the case of starch biosynthesis, UDP-glucose and fructose generate glucose-1-phosphate (G-1-P) which is transported across the amyloplast membrane. Accumulated G-1-P is interconverted into adenine diphosphate glucose (ADP-glucose) by the enzyme adenine diphosphate glucose pyrophosphorylase (ADP-glucose PPase). ADP-glucose is the substrate for starch polymer formation. Sucrose compartmentation into the vacuole is mediated by a sucrose/ proton antiporter located on the tonoplast. Within the vacuole, sucrose can be exposed to invertase hydrolysis with the hexose products accumulating or leaking back to the cytoplasm

(a) Sucrose metabolism

Sucrose is metabolically inert and, in order to be metabolised, must be hydrolysed to glucose and fructose. Only two enzymes are capable of metabolising sucrose in green plants. These are invertase and sucrose synthase (Figure 5.25) and they are paramount in sugar metabolism after phloem unloading.

Invertase catalyses irreversible hydrolysis of sucrose to its hexose moieties, glucose and fructose. Both acid and neutral invertases occur in plants, with pH optima of about 5 and 7.5, respectively. The activity of invertases varies with plant species, organ type and stage of development. Acid invertases, located in cell wall or in vacuole, are usually active in rapidly growing leaves, stems and fruits and seeds (Ruan et al. 2010), making hexoses available for regulating gene expression and for respiration and biosynthesis. Reduced acid invertase activity in vacuoles during development of sugar cane stems, and its absence from sucrose-accumulating tomato fruit, is a major factor in sucrose accumulation in vacuoles of these tissues. Suppression of cell wall invertase activity led to shrunken seed in maize and small fruit in tomato and loss of pollen fertility in tomato, wheat and rice, demonstrating its critical roles in these reproductive organs. Less is known about the physiological role of neutral invertases..

Sucrose synthase is mainly located in the cytoplasm but recent research also shows that the enzyme may also be associated with plasma membrane and even present in cell wall matrix.  It catalyses sucrose cleavage to fructose and UDP-glucose, a high-energy ester of glucose. UDP-glucose is a substrate for biosynthesis of cellulose and may be converted further for starch synthesis.High activities of sucrose synthase are found in both growing and starch storage tissues. In the cytoplasm of starchy tissues, UDP-glucose is converted by UDP-glucose pyro-phosphorylase to glucose-1-phosphate, which is transported across amyloplast membranes. In amyloplasts, glucose-1-phosphate provides glucose moieties for starch synthesis in a pathway comparable to starch formation in chloroplasts of photosynthetic leaves. The critical role of sucrose synthase in starch synthesis is demonstrated with potatoes transformed with an antisense construct of the gene encoding tuber-specific sucrose synthase. Tuber sucrose synthase activity in transformed plants was depressed significantly while the activities of key starch biosynthetic enzymes were unaltered. Low sucrose synthase activity was directly responsible for a proportional decrease in starch accumulation (Zrenner et al. 1995).

Sinks that accumulate soluble sugars have predictably low sucrose synthase activities. Contrastingly high sucrose synthase activities in phloem vessels may be responsible for energy production for phloem loading or unloading and maintaining cellular function of companion cells.

(b) Hexose metabolism

Hexoses transported to the sink cytoplasm are rapidly phosphorylated to hexose-6-phosphates by glucose- and fructose kinases. In these forms, hexoses can be used as substrates for respiration or for synthesis of new cell constituents. Alternatively, sucrose phosphate synthetase can convert them to sucrose, as in leaves (Chapters 1 and 2). Sucrose synthesized by this reaction can be accumulated in vacuoles (e.g. sugar beet tap roots, sugar cane stems) or be rehydrolysed into hexoses by a vacuolar acid invertase (e.g. grape berries).