Department of Zoology and Entomology, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X20, Pretoria, 0028, South Africa; Department of Biochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knoell Str. 8, 07745, Jena, Germany. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the best-studied defense responses to fungal infection in Norway spruce (Picea abies) is the biosynthesis of flavan-3-ols, which accumulate as monomers or polymers known as proanthocyanidins. The individual flavan-3-ol units consist of compounds with a 3',4'-dihydroxylated B ring [2,3-(trans)-(+)-catechin or 2,3-(cis)-(-)-epicatechin] and compounds with a 3',4',5'-trihydroxylated B ring [2,3 (trans)-(+)-gallocatechin or 2,3-(cis)-(-)-epigallocatechin]. While much is known about the biosynthesis and biological activity of catechin in Norway spruce, there is little comparable information about gallocatechin or epigallocatechin. We found that there was a significant increase in the gallocatechin content of Norway spruce bark and wood after inoculation with the bark beetle-associated sap-staining fungus Endoconidiophora polonica. Gallocatechins increased proportionally more than catechins as both monomers and units of polymers. A flavonoid 3',5'-hydroxylase gene identified in Norway spruce was shown by heterologous expression in Nicotiana benthamiana to be involved in the conversion of 2,3 (trans)-(+)-catechin to 2,3 (trans)-(+)-gallocatechin. The formation of the trihydroxylated B ring in Norway spruce occurs at the level of flavan-3-ols, rather than at the level of dihydroflavonols as in many angiosperms. The transcript abundance of the flavonoid 3',5'-hydroxylase gene also increased significantly during fungal infection underlining its importance in gallocatechin biosynthesis. Comparisons of the effect of 2,3 (trans)-(+)-catechin and 2,3 (trans)-(+)-gallocatechin on fungal growth revealed that 2,3 (trans)-(+)-catechin is a stronger inhibitor of fungal growth, while 2,3 (trans)-(+)-gallocatechin is a stronger inhibitor of melanin biosynthesis.