Dissection of tomato lycopene biosynthesis through virus-induced gene silencing

Plant Physiol. 2013 Oct;163(2):986-98. doi: 10.1104/pp.113.224733. Epub 2013 Sep 6.


Lycopene biosynthesis in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruits has been proposed to proceed through a poly-cis pathway catalyzed by phytoene synthase (PSY), two desaturases (phytoene desaturase [PDS] and ζ-carotene desaturase [ZDS]), and two cis-trans isomerases (ζ-carotene isomerase [ZISO] and prolycopene isomerase [CrtISO]). The mechanism of action of these enzymes has been studied in Escherichia coli, but a systematic study of their in vivo function is lacking. We studied the function of nine candidate genes (PSY1, PSY2, PSY3, PDS, ZDS, ZISO, CrtISO, CrtISO-Like1, and CrtISO-Like2) using virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) coupled to high-resolution liquid chromatography coupled with diode array detector and mass spectrometry, which allowed the identification and quantitation of 45 different carotenoid isomers, including linear xanthophylls. The data confirm the confinement of the VIGS signal to the silenced fruits and the similarity of the phenotypes of PSY1- and CrtISO-silenced fruits with those of the yellow flesh and tangerine mutants. Light was able to restore lycopene biosynthesis in ZISO-silenced fruits. Isomeric composition of fruits silenced at different metabolic steps suggested the existence of three functional units, comprising PSY1, PDS/ZISO, and ZDS/CrtISO, and responsible for the synthesis of 15-cis-phytoene, 9,9'-di-cis-ζ-carotene, and all-trans-lycopene, respectively. Silencing of a desaturase (PDS or ZDS) resulted in the induction of the isomerase in the same functional unit (ZISO or CrtISO, respectively). All-trans-ζ-carotene was detectable in nonsilenced fruits, greatly increased in ZDS-silenced ones, and disappeared in CrtISO-Like1-/CrtISO-Like2-silenced ones, suggesting the existence of a metabolic side branch, comprising this compound and initiated by the latter enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / radiation effects
  • Carotenoids / biosynthesis*
  • Carotenoids / chemistry
  • Carotenoids / metabolism
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Fruit / enzymology
  • Fruit / genetics
  • Fruit / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant / radiation effects
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Isomerism
  • Light
  • Lycopene
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / enzymology
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / genetics
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / metabolism*
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / virology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Organ Specificity / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Plant Viruses / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic / radiation effects
  • zeta Carotene / metabolism


  • zeta Carotene
  • Carotenoids
  • neurosporene
  • phytofluene
  • (all-E) phytoene
  • Oxidoreductases
  • phytoene dehydrogenase
  • zeta-carotene desaturase
  • Lycopene