The aconitate hydratase family from Citrus
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Background: Research on citrus fruit ripening has received considerable attention because of the importance of citrus fruits for the human diet. Organic acids are among the main determinants of taste and organoleptic quality of fruits and hence the control of fruit acidity loss has a strong economical relevance. In citrus, organic acids accumulate in the juice sac cells of developing fruits and are catabolized thereafter during ripening. Aconitase, that transforms citrate to isocitrate, is the first step of citric acid catabolism and a major component of the citrate utilization machinery. In this work, the citrus aconitase gene family was first characterized and a phylogenetic analysis was then carried out in order to understand the evolutionary history of this family in plants. Gene expression analyses of the citrus aconitase family were subsequently performed in several acidic and acidless genotypes to elucidate their involvement in acid homeostasis. Results: Analysis of 460,000 citrus ESTs, followed by sequencing of complete cDNA clones, identified in citrus 3 transcription units coding for putatively active aconitate hydratase proteins, named as CcAco1, CcAco2 and CcAco3. A phylogenetic study carried on the Aco family in 14 plant species, shows the presence of 5 Aco subfamilies, and that the ancestor of monocot and dicot species shared at least one Aco gene. Real-time RT-PCR expression analyses of the three aconitase citrus genes were performed in pulp tissues along fruit development in acidic and acidless citrus varieties such as mandarins, oranges and lemons. While CcAco3 expression was always low, CcAco1 and CcAco2 genes were generally induced during the rapid phase of fruit growth along with the maximum in acidity and the beginning of the acid reduction. Two exceptions to this general pattern were found: 1) Clemenules mandarin failed inducing CcAco2 although acid levels were rapidly reduced; and 2) the acidless "Sucrena" orange showed unusually high levels of expression of both aconitases, an observation correlating with the acidless phenotype. However, in the acidless "Dulce" lemon aconitase expression was normal suggesting that the acidless trait in this variety is not dependent upon aconitases. Conclusions: Phylogenetic studies showed the occurrence of five different subfamilies of aconitate hydratase in plants and sequence analyses indentified three active genes in citrus. The pattern of expression of two of these genes, CcAco1 and CcAco2, was normally associated with the timing of acid content reduction in most genotypes. Two exceptions to this general observation suggest the occurrence of additional regulatory steps of citrate homeostasis in citrus.