Cell wall metabolism in fruit softening and quality and its manipulation in transgenic plants

Plant Mol Biol. 2001 Sep;47(1-2):311-40.


Excessive softening is the main factor limiting fruit shelf life and storage. Transgenic plants modified in the expression of cell wall modifying proteins have been used to investigate the role of particular activities in fruit softening during ripening, and in the manufacture of processed fruit products. Transgenic experiments show that polygalacturonase (PG) activity is largely responsible for pectin depolymerization and solubilization, but that PG-mediated pectin depolymerization requires pectin to be de-methyl-esterified by pectin methylesterase (PME), and that the PG beta-subunit protein plays a role in limiting pectin solubilization. Suppression of PG activity only slightly reduces fruit softening (but extends fruit shelf life), suppression of PME activity does not affect firmness during normal ripening, and suppression of beta-subunit protein accumulation increases softening. All these pectin-modifying proteins affect the integrity of the middle lamella, which controls cell-to-cell adhesion and thus influences fruit texture. Diminished accumulation of either PG or PME activity considerably increases the viscosity of tomato juice or paste, which is correlated with reduced polyuronide depolymerization during processing. In contrast, suppression of beta-galactosidase activity early in ripening significantly reduces fruit softening, suggesting that the removal of pectic galactan side-chains is an important factor in the cell wall changes leading to ripening-related firmness loss. Suppression or overexpression of endo-(1-->4)beta-D-glucanase activity has no detectable effect on fruit softening or the depolymerization of matrix glycans, and neither the substrate nor the function for this enzyme has been determined. The role of xyloglucan endotransglycosylase activity in softening is also obscure, and the activity responsible for xyloglucan depolymerization during ripening, a major contributor to softening, has not yet been identified. However, ripening-related expansin protein abundance is directly correlated with fruit softening and has additional indirect effects on pectin depolymerization, showing that this protein is intimately involved in the softening process. Transgenic work has shown that the cell wall changes leading to fruit softening and textural changes are complex, and involve the coordinated and interdependent activities of a range of cell wall-modifying proteins. It is suggested that the cell wall changes caused early in ripening by the activities of some enzymes, notably beta-galactosidase and ripening-related expansin, may restrict or control the activities of other ripening-related enzymes necessary for the fruit softening process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Wall / genetics
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Enzymes / genetics
  • Enzymes / metabolism
  • Fruit / genetics
  • Fruit / growth & development*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / genetics
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / growth & development
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / metabolism
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / growth & development
  • Plants, Genetically Modified / metabolism*
  • Polysaccharides / metabolism


  • Enzymes
  • Polysaccharides