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Plant researchers locate transporter used for nicotine metabolism
Date:11/1/2011

The next time you take aspirin for a headache, thank a willow tree. Salicylic acid, a compound chemically similar to aspirin, is found in willow tree bark and is made by the plant as a chemical defense against pathogens. By mimicking the chemical production processes of plants, scientists have been able to synthetically produce and engineer many important alkaloid drug products, including caffeine, atropine (an anti-spasmodic used to treat heart arrhythmia), nicotine, morphine and quinine.

The trick, however, is to understand how a plant produces these compounds and then transports them through the plant. A team of Virginia Tech and Purdue University scientists have identified a distinct transporter used by tobacco plant cells for nicotine metabolism. The research appears in the Oct. 17 online before print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in the article, "A tobacco nicotine uptake permease effects alkaloid metabolism."

The transporter, called nicotine uptake permease (NUP1) allows alkaloids nitrogen-containing compounds to pass into plant cells. The transporter is a tubular structure found in the outer boundary of the plant cell, known as the plasma membrane. Passage of alkaloids from one cell to another in an assembly line fashion is crucial to the biosynthesis of many medicinal plant alkaloids. However, prior to the study, it was not known exactly how the alkaloids were able to move either in or out of the cell.

"We knew that the general process of going in and out is important for alkaloid metabolism, but we didn't know the details," said John Jelesko, associate professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science at Virginia Tech. "The NUP1 transporter is very specific for nicotine other closely related alkaloids don't use this transporter. That degree of specificity is rather unusual."

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Contact: Lindsay Key
ltkey@vt.edu
540-231-6594
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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