Transcriptomic Analysis Reveals the Molecular Adaptation of Three Major Secondary Metabolic Pathways to Multiple Macronutrient Starvation in Tea ( Camellia sinensis)

Genes (Basel). 2020 Feb 25;11(3):241. doi: 10.3390/genes11030241.


Tea (Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze) is a widely consumed beverage. Lack of macronutrients is a major cause of tea yield and quality losses. Though the effects of macronutrient starvation on tea metabolism have been studied, little is known about their molecular mechanisms. Hence, we investigated changes in the gene expression of tea plants under nitrogen (N), phosphate (P), and potassium (K) deficient conditions by RNA-sequencing. A total of 9103 differentially expressed genes (DEG) were identified. Function enrichment analysis showed that many biological processes and pathways were common to N, P, and K starvation. In particular, cis-element analysis of promoter of genes uncovered that members of the WRKY, MYB, bHLH, NF-Y, NAC, Trihelix, and GATA families were more likely to regulate genes involved in catechins, L-theanine, and caffeine biosynthetic pathways. Our results provide a comprehensive insight into the mechanisms of responses to N, P, and K starvation, and a global basis for the improvement of tea quality and molecular breeding.

Keywords: Camellia sinensis; macronutrient starvation; secondary metabolite; transcription factors; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Caffeine / metabolism
  • Camellia sinensis / genetics
  • Camellia sinensis / metabolism
  • Catechin / metabolism
  • Eating
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant / genetics
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nutrients / metabolism*
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Potassium / metabolism
  • Secondary Metabolism / genetics*
  • Starvation
  • Transcriptome / genetics*


  • Phosphates
  • Plant Proteins
  • Caffeine
  • Catechin
  • Nitrogen
  • Potassium