Polyols such as sorbitol and ribitol are a class of compatible solutes in plants that may play roles in tolerance to abiotic stresses. This study investigated the effects of water stress on sorbitol biosynthesis and metabolism and sorbitol and ribitol accumulation in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.). Water stress induced by withholding water and by using polyethylene glycol as a root incubation solution to mimic water stress, and NaCl stress were applied to wild-type (WT) and three genetically-modified lines of tomato (cv. Ailsa Craig), a control vector line TR22, and 2 sorbitol dehydrogenase (sdh) antisense lines TR45 and TR49. Sorbitol and ribitol content, as well as the enzymatic activities, protein accumulation, and gene expression patterns of the key sorbitol cycle enzymes aldose-6-phosphate reductase (A6PR), aldose reductase (AR), and sorbitol dehydrogenase (SDH), were measured in mature leaves. In response to the stresses, both sorbitol and ribitol accumulated in leaf tissue, most significantly in the sdh antisense lines. A6PR, characterised for the first time in this work, and AR both exhibited increased enzymatic activity correlated with sorbitol accumulation during the stress treatments, with SDH also increasing in WT and TR22 to metabolise sorbitol, reducing the content to control levels within 3 days after re-watering. In the sdh antisense lines, the lack of significant SDH activity resulted in the increased sorbitol and ribitol content above WT levels. The results highlighted a role for both A6PR and AR in biosynthesis of sorbitol in tomato where the high activity of both enzymes was associated with sorbitol accumulation. Although both A6PR and AR are aldo-keto reductases and use NADPH as a co-factor, the AR-specific inhibitor sorbinil inhibited AR only indicating that they are different enzymes. The determination that sorbitol, and perhaps ribitol as well, plays a role in abiotic responses in tomato provides a cornerstone for future studies examining how they impact tomato tolerance to abiotic stresses, and if their alteration could improve stress tolerance.
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