Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are synthesized in plants from branched-chain keto acids, but their metabolism is not completely understood. The interface of BCAA metabolism lies with branched-chain aminotransferases (BCAT) that catalyze both the last anabolic step and the first catabolic step. In this study, six BCAT genes from the cultivated tomato ( Solanum lycopersicum ) were identified and characterized. SlBCAT1 , -2 , -3 , and - 4 are expressed in multiple plant tissues, while SlBCAT5 and - 6 were undetectable. SlBCAT1 and -2 are located in the mitochondria, SlBCAT3 and -4 are located in chloroplasts, while SlBCAT5 and -6 are located in the cytosol and vacuole, respectively. SlBCAT1, -2, -3, and -4 were able to restore growth of Escherichia coli BCAA auxotrophic cells, but SlBCAT1 and -2 were less effective than SlBCAT3 and -4 in growth restoration. All enzymes were active in the forward (BCAA synthesis) and reverse (branched-chain keto acid synthesis) reactions. SlBCAT3 and -4 exhibited a preference for the forward reaction, while SlBCAT1 and -2 were more active in the reverse reaction. While overexpression of SlBCAT1 or -3 in tomato fruit did not significantly alter amino acid levels, an expression quantitative trait locus on chromosome 3, associated with substantially higher expression of Solanum pennellii BCAT4 , did significantly increase BCAA levels. Conversely, antisense-mediated reduction of SlBCAT1 resulted in higher levels of BCAAs. Together, these results support a model in which the mitochondrial SlBCAT1 and -2 function in BCAA catabolism while the chloroplastic SlBCAT3 and -4 function in BCAA synthesis.
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