Sorbitol is the major carbohydrate translocated into apple fruit where it is normally metabolized to fructose. In watercored apple fruit tissues, however, the intercellular spaces become flooded and sorbitol content is consistently higher than in nonwatercored apples, suggesting a defect in sugar alcohol metabolism or transport. Our previous results have identified and characterized two sorbitol transporters, MsSOT1 and MsSOT2, in apple fruit tissues. Sorbitol transporter gene expression has been implicated in development of watercore with MsSOT expression diminished or absent in certain watercored fruit tissues. To explore this further, we have investigated the relationships between watercore, fruit maturation, fruit composition, and MsSOT expression in a number of apple cultivars that differ in watercore susceptibility. We also compared transporter expression between affected (watercored) and healthy parts of the same fruit and between watercored and nonwatercored fruits throughout the maturation and ripening processes. The MsSOT expression was often dramatically reduced in fruit tissues exhibiting watercore. Thus, in susceptible cultivars, maturing (ripening) fruit parenchyma cells lose the ability to transport sorbitol, and this in turn leads to sorbitol accumulation in the apoplastic free space and subsequent flooding of these spaces. These results are consistent with a relationship between watercore and sorbitol transport and also with a genetic susceptibility to the disorder.
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