Background: Grapes (Vitis vinifera L.) are economically the most important fruit crop worldwide. However, the complexity of molecular and biochemical events that lead to the onset of ripening of nonclimacteric fruits is not fully understood which is further complicated in grapes due to seasonal and cultivar specific variation. The Portuguese wine variety Trincadeira gives rise to high quality wines but presents extremely irregular berry ripening among seasons probably due to high susceptibility to abiotic and biotic stresses.
Results: Ripening of Trincadeira grapes was studied taking into account the transcriptional and metabolic profilings complemented with biochemical data. The mRNA expression profiles of four time points spanning developmental stages from pea size green berries, through véraison and mature berries (EL 32, EL 34, EL 35 and EL 36) and in two seasons (2007 and 2008) were compared using the Affymetrix GrapeGen® genome array containing 23096 probesets corresponding to 18726 unique sequences. Over 50% of these probesets were significantly differentially expressed (1.5 fold) between at least two developmental stages. A common set of modulated transcripts corresponding to 5877 unigenes indicates the activation of common pathways between years despite the irregular development of Trincadeira grapes. These unigenes were assigned to the functional categories of "metabolism", "development", "cellular process", "diverse/miscellanenous functions", "regulation overview", "response to stimulus, stress", "signaling", "transport overview", "xenoprotein, transposable element" and "unknown". Quantitative RT-PCR validated microarrays results being carried out for eight selected genes and five developmental stages (EL 32, EL 34, EL 35, EL 36 and EL 38). Metabolic profiling using 1H NMR spectroscopy associated to two-dimensional techniques showed the importance of metabolites related to oxidative stress response, amino acid and sugar metabolism as well as secondary metabolism. These results were integrated with transcriptional profiling obtained using genome array to provide new information regarding the network of events leading to grape ripening.
Conclusions: Altogether the data obtained provides the most extensive survey obtained so far for gene expression and metabolites accumulated during grape ripening. Moreover, it highlighted information obtained in a poorly known variety exhibiting particular characteristics that may be cultivar specific or dependent upon climatic conditions. Several genes were identified that had not been previously reported in the context of grape ripening namely genes involved in carbohydrate and amino acid metabolisms as well as in growth regulators; metabolism, epigenetic factors and signaling pathways. Some of these genes were annotated as receptors, transcription factors, and kinases and constitute good candidates for functional analysis in order to establish a model for ripening control of a non-climacteric fruit.