• cell wall phenolics;
  • genetic modification;
  • lignification;
  • O-methylation;
  • transgenic alfalfa


Genes encoding seven enzymes of the monolignol pathway were independently downregulated in alfalfa (Medicago sativa) using antisense and/or RNA interference. In each case, total flux into lignin was reduced, with the largest effects arising from the downregulation of earlier enzymes in the pathway. The downregulation of l-phenylalanine ammonia-lyase, 4-coumarate 3-hydroxylase, hydroxycinnamoyl CoA quinate/shikimate hydroxycinnamoyl transferase, ferulate 5-hydroxylase or caffeic acid 3-O-methyltransferase resulted in compositional changes in lignin and wall-bound hydroxycinnamic acids consistent with the current models of the monolignol pathway. However, downregulating caffeoyl CoA 3-O-methyltransferase neither reduced syringyl (S) lignin units nor wall-bound ferulate, inconsistent with a role for this enzyme in 3-O-methylation ofS monolignol precursors and hydroxycinnamic acids. Paradoxically, lignin composition differed in plants downregulated in either cinnamate 4-hydroxylase or phenylalanine ammonia-lyase. No changes in the levels of acylated flavonoids were observed in the various transgenic lines. The current model for monolignol and ferulate biosynthesis appears to be an over-simplification, at least in alfalfa, and additional enzymes may be needed for the 3-O-methylation reactions of S lignin and ferulate biosynthesis.