Background: In mixed sugar fermentations with recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains able to ferment D-xylose and L-arabinose the pentose sugars are normally only utilized after depletion of D-glucose. This has been attributed to competitive inhibition of pentose uptake by D-glucose as pentose sugars are taken up into yeast cells by individual members of the yeast hexose transporter family. We wanted to investigate whether D-glucose inhibits pentose utilization only by blocking its uptake or also by interfering with its further metabolism.
Results: To distinguish between inhibitory effects of D-glucose on pentose uptake and pentose catabolism, maltose was used as an alternative carbon source in maltose-pentose co-consumption experiments. Maltose is taken up by a specific maltose transport system and hydrolyzed only intracellularly into two D-glucose molecules. Pentose consumption decreased by about 20 - 30% during the simultaneous utilization of maltose indicating that hexose catabolism can impede pentose utilization. To test whether intracellular D-glucose might impair pentose utilization, hexo-/glucokinase deletion mutants were constructed. Those mutants are known to accumulate intracellular D-glucose when incubated with maltose. However, pentose utilization was not effected in the presence of maltose. Addition of increasing concentrations of D-glucose to the hexo-/glucokinase mutants finally completely blocked D-xylose as well as L-arabinose consumption, indicating a pronounced inhibitory effect of D-glucose on pentose uptake. Nevertheless, constitutive overexpression of pentose-transporting hexose transporters like Hxt7 and Gal2 could improve pentose consumption in the presence of D-glucose.
Conclusion: Our results confirm that D-glucose impairs the simultaneous utilization of pentoses mainly due to inhibition of pentose uptake. Whereas intracellular D-glucose does not seem to have an inhibitory effect on pentose utilization, further catabolism of D-glucose can also impede pentose utilization. Nevertheless, the results suggest that co-fermentation of pentoses in the presence of D-glucose can significantly be improved by the overexpression of pentose transporters, especially if they are not inhibited by D-glucose.