Background: Structural genes of the phenyl-propanoid pathway which encode flavonoid 3'- and 3',5'-hydroxylases (F3'H and F3'5'H) have long been invoked to explain the biosynthesis of cyanidin- and delphinidin-based anthocyanin pigments in the so-called red cultivars of grapevine. The relative proportion of the two types of anthocyanins is largely under genetic control and determines the colour variation among red/purple/blue berry grape varieties and their corresponding wines.
Results: Gene fragments of VvF3'H and VvF3'5'H, that were isolated from Vitis vinifera 'Cabernet Sauvignon' using degenerate primers designed on plant homologous genes, translated into 313 and 239 amino acid protein fragments, respectively, with up to 76% and 82% identity to plant CYP75 cytochrome P450 monooxygenases. Putative function was assigned on the basis of sequence homology, expression profiling and its correlation with metabolite accumulation at ten different ripening stages. At the onset of colour transition, transcriptional induction of VvF3'H and VvF3'5'H was temporally coordinated with the beginning of anthocyanin biosynthesis, the expression being 2-fold and 50-fold higher, respectively, in red berries versus green berries. The peak of VvF3'5'H expression was observed two weeks later concomitantly with the increase of the ratio of delphinidin-/cyanidin-derivatives. The analysis of structural genomics revealed that two copies of VvF3'H are physically linked on linkage group no. 17 and several copies of VvF3'5'H are tightly clustered and embedded into a segmental duplication on linkage group no. 6, unveiling a high complexity when compared to other plant flavonoid hydroxylase genes known so far, mostly in ornamentals.
Conclusion: We have shown that genes encoding flavonoid 3'- and 3',5'-hydroxylases are expressed in any tissues of the grape plant that accumulate flavonoids and, particularly, in skin of ripening red berries that synthesise mostly anthocyanins. The correlation between transcript profiles and the kinetics of accumulation of red/cyanidin- and blue/delphinidin-based anthocyanins indicated that VvF3'H and VvF3'5'H expression is consistent with the chromatic evolution of ripening bunches. Local physical maps constructed around the VvF3'H and VvF3'5'H loci should help facilitate the identification of the regulatory elements of each isoform and the future manipulation of grapevine and wine colour through agronomical, environmental and biotechnological tools.