The role of alanine and aspartate aminotransferases in C4 photosynthesis

Plant Biol (Stuttg). 2019 Jan:21 Suppl 1:64-76. doi: 10.1111/plb.12904. Epub 2018 Sep 24.


Alanine and aspartate are essential transfer metabolites for C4 species of the NAD-malic enzyme and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase subtype. To some degree both amino acids are also part of the metabolite shuttle in NADP-malic enzyme plants. In comparison with C3 species, the majority of C4 species are therefore characterised by enhanced expression and activity of alanine and aspartate aminotransferases (AT) in the photosynthetically active tissue. Both enzymes exist in multiple copies and have been found in different subcellular compartments. We tested whether different C4 species show preferential recruitment of enzymes from specific lineages and subcellular compartments. Phylogenetic analysis of alanine and aspartate ATs from a variety of monocot and eudicot C4 species and their C3 relatives was combined with subcellular prediction tools and analysis of the subsequent transcript amounts in mature leaves. Recruitment of aspartate AT from a specific subcellular compartment was strongly connected to the biochemical subtype. Deviation from the main model was however observed in Gynandropsis gynandra. The configuration of alanine AT generally differed in monocot and eudicot species. C4 monocots recruited an alanine AT from a specific cytosolic branch, but eudicots use alanine AT copies from a mitochondrial branch. Generally, plants display high plasticity in the setup of the C4 pathway. Beside the common models for the different C4 subtypes, individual solutions were found for plant groups or lineages.

Keywords: C4 photosynthesis; aminotransferase; evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Alanine Transaminase / genetics
  • Alanine Transaminase / metabolism*
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / genetics
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases / metabolism*
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Photosynthesis*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Leaves / enzymology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Carbon
  • Aspartate Aminotransferases
  • Alanine Transaminase