Increasing amino acid supply in pea embryos reveals specific interactions of N and C metabolism, and highlights the importance of mitochondrial metabolism


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The application of nitrogen to legumes regulates seed metabolism and composition. We recently showed that the seed-specific overexpression of amino acid permease VfAAP1 increases amino acid supply, and the levels of N and protein in the seeds. Two consecutive field trials using Pisum sativum AAP1 lines confirmed increases in the levels of N and globulin in seed; however, compensatory changes of sucrose/starch and individual seed weight were also observed. We present a comprehensive analysis of AAP1 seeds using combinatorial transcript and metabolite profiling to monitor the effects of nitrogen supply on seed metabolism. AAP1 seeds have increased amino acids and stimulated gene expression associated with storage protein synthesis, maturation, deposition and vesicle trafficking. Transcript/metabolite changes reveal the channelling of surplus N into the transient storage pools asparagine and arginine, indicating that asparagine synthase is transcriptionally activated by high N levels and/or C limitation. Increased C-acceptor demand for amino acid synthesis, resulting from elevated levels of N in seeds, initiates sucrose mobilization and sucrose-dependent pathways via sucrose synthase, glycolysis and the TCA cycle. The AAP1 seeds display a limitation in C, which leads to the catabolism of arginine, glutamic acid and methionine to putrescine, β-alanine and succinate. Mitochondria are involved in the coordination of C/N metabolism, with branched-chain amino acid catabolism and a γ-amino-butyric acid shunt. AAP1 seeds contain higher levels of ABA, which is possibly involved in storage-associated gene expression and the N-dependent stimulation of sucrose mobilization, indicating that a signalling network of C, N and ABA is operating during seed maturation. These results demonstrate that legume seeds have a high capacity to regulate N:C ratios, and highlight the importance of mitochondria in the control of N–C balance and amino acid homeostasis.