The importance of maltose in transitory starch breakdown


Thomas D. Sharkey. Fax: +1 608 262 7509; e-mail:


Starch content of leaves responds to environmental stresses in various ways. Understanding these environmental effects on starch metabolism has been difficult in the past because the pathways of transitory starch synthesis and degradation are not completely known. Over the past two years there has been a significant increase in our understanding of transitory starch breakdown. The discovery of a maltose transporter (MEX1) and the studies of a cytosolic disproportionating enzyme (D-enzyme, DPE2) confirmed that maltose is the predominant form of carbon exported from chloroplasts at night. Maltose increases in leaves when starch breakdown is induced during the day under photorespiratory conditions. Maltose metabolism is regulated by a circadian clock, day length and temperature. The expression of maltose-metabolizing genes shows a pronounced circadian rhythm indicating maltose metabolism is clock regulated. Indeed, the maltose level oscillates under continuous light. The transcript of a β-amylase gene (BAM3) peaks during the day in long days and peaks at night in short days. This could provide a mechanism for adjusting starch breakdown rates to day length. Under cold-stress conditions, maltose increases and BAM3 expression is induced. We hypothesize that maltose metabolism is a bridge between transitory starch breakdown and the plants’ adaptation to changes in environmental conditions.