Background: The phenylpropanoid pathway is responsible for the synthesis of numerous compounds important for plant growth and responses to the environment. In the first committed step of phenylpropanoid biosynthesis, the enzyme phenylalanine ammonia-lyase (PAL) deaminates L-phenylalanine into trans-cinnamic acid that is then converted into p-coumaric acid by cinnamate-4-hydroxylase (C4H). Recent studies showed that the Kelch repeat F-box (KFB) protein family of ubiquitin ligases control phenylpropanoid biosynthesis by promoting the proteolysis of PAL. However, this ubiquitin ligase family, alternatively named Kiss Me Deadly (KMD), was also implicated in cytokinin signaling as it was shown to promote the degradation of type-B ARRs, including the key response activator ARR1. Considering that ubiquitin ligases typically have narrow target specificity, this dual targeting of structurally and functionally unrelated proteins appeared unusual.

Results: Here we show that the KFBs indeed target PAL but not ARR1. Moreover, we show that changes in early phenylpropanoid biosynthesis alter cytokinin sensitivity – as reported earlier - but that the previously documented cytokinin growth response changes are primarily the result of altered auxin signaling. We found that reduced PAL accumulation decreased, whereas the loss of C4H function increased the strength of the auxin response. The combined loss of function of both enzymes led to a decrease in auxin sensitivity, indicating that metabolic events upstream of C4H control auxin sensitivity. This auxin/phenylpropanoid interaction impacts both shoot and root development and revealed an auxin-dependent stimulatory effect of trans-cinnamic acid feeding on leaf expansion and thus biomass accumulation.

Conclusions: Collectively, our results show that auxin-regulated plant growth is fine-tuned by early steps in phenylpropanoid biosynthesis and suggest that metabolites accumulating upstream of the C4H step impact the auxin response mechanism.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in BMC Plant Biology, v. 18, 278, p. 1-15.

© The Author(s). 2018

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, HATCH project 1009329, by the National Science Foundation (IOS-0919991), and by the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center.

Related Content

All materials and data used during the current study are included in this published article or are available from the corresponding author upon request.

12870_2018_1477_MOESM1_ESM.docx (7770 kB)
Additional file 1: Figure S1-S6.