α-l-Arabinofuranosidases (α-Af) are plant enzymes that have the capacity to release terminal arabinofuranosyl residues from a wide variety of pectic and hemicellulosic polymers, as well as different glycoconjugates. Our interest in α-Af is related to its potential role in ripening-related loss of arabinose from tomato fruit cell walls. Using both control (cv. VF 36) and ACC synthase antisense (A11.1) tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.), we demonstrate that tomato α-Af activity is present during the entire ontogeny of the fruit. Immature 10-day-old fruit displayed 6-fold more α-Af activity on a per gram fresh weight basis, than mature green fruit. In VF 36 fruit, α-Af activity increased 45% from mature green 4 (48 days post anthesis) to light red stages (55 days) when fruit ripened on the vine. In contrast, no similar increase was detected in ACC synthase antisense fruit that do not ripen in the same time frame. However, when A11.1 fruit were detached at 48 days after anthesis and treated continuously with 100 mL·L-1 ethylene the fruit ripened and α-Af increased, as in ripening normal fruit. The α-Af activity pattern is similar to that reported for tomato β-galactosidases. The increasing α-Af activity during ripening and the decreased activity in antisense ACC synthase fruit after reaching the mature green stage suggest a role for ethylene in the ripening-related synthesis or activation of this enzyme.
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