A polymer of caffeyl alcohol in plant seeds


A polymer of caffeyl alcohol in plant seeds

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Volume 109, Number 5, p.1772-1777 (2012)


Enabling Technologies, Plants


Lignins are complex phenylpropanoid polymers mostly associated with plant secondary cell walls. Lignins arise primarily via oxidative polymerization of the three monolignols, p-coumaryl, coniferyl, and sinapyl alcohols. Of the two hydroxycinnamyl alcohols that represent incompletely methylated biosynthetic products (and are not usually considered to be monolignols), 5-hydroxyconiferyl alcohol is now well established as incorporating into angiosperm lignins, but incorporation of caffeyl alcohol has not been shown. We report here the presence of a homopolymer of caffeyl alcohol in the seed coats of both monocot and dicot plants. This polymer (C-lignin) is deposited to high concentrations in the seed coat during the early stages of seed development in the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia), and in several members of the Cactaceae. The lignin in other parts of the Vanilla plant is conventionally biosynthesized from coniferyl and sinapyl alcohols. Some species of cacti contain only C-lignin in their seeds, whereas others contain only classical guaiacyl/syringyl lignin (derived from coniferyl and sinapyl alcohols). NMR spectroscopic analysis revealed that the Vanilla seed-coat polymer was massively comprised of benzodioxane units and was structurally similar to the polymer synthesized in vitro by peroxidase-catalyzed polymerization of caffeyl alcohol. CD spectroscopy did not detect any optical activity in the seed polymer. These data support the contention that the C-lignin polymer is produced in vivo via combinatorial oxidative radical coupling that is under simple chemical control, a mechanism analogous to that theorized for classical lignin biosynthesis.