Nitrogen starvation induces a global stress response in microalgae that results in the accumulation of lipids as a potential source of biofuel. Using GC-MS-based metabolite and iTRAQ-labeled protein profiling, we examined and correlated the metabolic and proteomic response of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii under nitrogen stress. Key amino acids and metabolites involved in nitrogen sparing pathways, methyl group transfer reactions, and energy production were decreased in abundance, whereas certain fatty acids, citric acid, methionine, citramalic acid, triethanolamine, nicotianamine, trehalose, and sorbitol were increased in abundance. Proteins involved in nitrogen assimilation, amino acid metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, glycolysis, TCA cycle, starch, and lipid metabolism were elevated compared with nonstressed cultures. In contrast, the enzymes of the glyoxylate cycle, one carbon metabolism, pentose phosphate pathway, the Calvin cycle, photosynthetic and light harvesting complex, and ribosomes were reduced. A noteworthy observation was that citrate accumulated during nitrogen stress coordinate with alterations in the enzymes that produce or utilize this metabolite, demonstrating the value of comparing protein and metabolite profiles to understand complex patterns of metabolic flow. Thus, the current study provides unique insight into the global metabolic adjustments leading to lipid storage during N starvation for application toward advanced biofuel production technologies.
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