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Functional characterization of ZmTPS7 reveals a maize τ-cadinol synthase involved in stress response


Main conclusion

Maize ( Zea mays ) terpene synthase 7 (ZmTPS7) was characterized as a τ-cadinol synthase, which exhibited constitutive and inducible gene expression patterns, suggesting involvement in stress response.

Maize produces a variety of terpenoids involved in defense response. Despite some terpene synthases (TPSs) responsible for these terpenoids have been characterized, biosynthesis of many terpenes, particularly sesquiterpenes, which were produced in response to biotic or abiotic stress, remains largely unknown. Here, we characterized ZmTPS7 biochemically through recombinant expression in Escherichia coli and detected that it catalyzed formation of a blend of sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpenoid alcohols as the sesquiterpene synthase through GC–MS analysis. Subsequently, the major product was purified and identified as τ-cadinol through nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) analysis, which was also detected in maize tissues infected by pathogen fungus for the first time. ZmTPS7 constitutively expressed in aerial tissues while with trace amount of transcript in roots. Fungus spore inoculation and methyl jasmonate (MeJA) treatment induced gene expression of ZmTPS7 in leaves, while exogenous ABA induced ZmTPS7 dramatically in roots, suggesting that ZmTPS7 might be involved in stress response. τ-cadinol was quantified in infected maize tissues with the concentration of ~200 ng/g fresh weight, however, which was much lower than the inhibitory one on two tested necrotrophic fungi. Such evidences indicate that anti-fungal activity of τ-cadinol is not physiologically relevant, and further investigation is needed to clarify its biological functions in maize. Taken together, ZmTPS7 was characterized as the τ-cadinol synthase and suggested to be involved in stress response, which also increased the diversity of maize terpenoid profile.

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Farnesyl pyrophosphate


Geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate


Methyl jasmonate


Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy


Terpene synthases


Maize terpene synthase 7


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This work was supported by the fund for distinguished young scientists of Sichuan Province (2014JQ0038) and start-up fund from Sichuan Agricultural University to Q.W. We appreciate the help of Dr. Reuben Peters at Iowa State University for providing the plasmid pGG.

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Correspondence to Qiang Wang.

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Ren, F., Mao, H., Liang, J. et al. Functional characterization of ZmTPS7 reveals a maize τ-cadinol synthase involved in stress response. Planta 244, 1065–1074 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-016-2570-y

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  • ABA
  • Sesquiterpene
  • Terpene synthase
  • Terpenoid
  • Zea mays