Plasma membrane, proton-coupled Group II sucrose symporters (SUT) mediate apoplastic phloem loading and sucrose efflux from source leaves in Arabidopsis and agricultural crop species that have been studied to date. We now report that the most abundantly expressed SUT isoform in Populus tremula×alba, PtaSUT4, is a tonoplast (Group IV) symporter. PtaSUT4 transcripts were readily detected in conducting as well as mesophyll cells in stems and source leaves. In comparison, Group II orthologs PtaSUT1 and PtaSUT3 were very weakly expressed in leaves. Both Group II and Group IV SUT genes were expressed in secondary stem xylem of Populus. Transgenic poplars with RNAi-suppressed PtaSUT4 exhibited increased leaf-to-stem biomass ratios, elevated sucrose content in source leaves and stems, and altered phenylpropanoid metabolism. Transcript abundance of several carbohydrate-active enzymes and phenylalanine ammonia-lyases was also altered in transgenic source leaves. Nitrogen-limitation led to a down-regulation of vacuolar invertases in all plants, which resulted in an augmentation of sucrose pooling and hexose depletion in source leaves and secondary xylem of the transgenic plants. These results are consistent with a major role for PtaSUT4 in orchestrating the intracellular partitioning, and consequently, the efflux of sucrose from source leaves and the utilization of sucrose by lateral and terminal sinks. Our findings also support the idea that PtaSUT4 modulates sucrose efflux and utilization in concert with plant N-status.
© 2011 The Authors. The Plant Journal © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.