Background: Theobroma cacao is a major source of flavonoids such as catechins and their monomers proanthocyanidins (PAs), widely studied for their potential benefits in cardiovascular diseases. Light has been shown to promote plant secondary metabolite production in vitro. In this study, cacao cells cultured in 7.5 L stirred tank photobioreactors (STPs) were exposed to a change of white to blue LED lights for 28 days (d). Results: Transcriptomic analyses were performed in three time points comparing changing expression patterns, after cell exposure to white light (d0-VS-d14), after a shift from white to blue light (d14-VS-d15), and after an extended period of blue light for the following 15 days (d15-VS-d28). Under white light, there was enrichment in metabolic pathways associated with cell growth (carbon, glycolysis, and amino acid biosynthesis) accompanied by a significant increase in the PAs content. In the shift to blue light, further increase in PAs content was observed concomitantly with the significant expression of TWO-COMPONENT RESPONSE REGULATOR genes involved in the early stress responses via circadian clock and hormone pathways. Under blue light exposure, we observed a depletion of PAs content associated with ROS-mediated stress pathways. Conclusions: Light effects on large-scale cell cultures in photobioreactors are complex and pleiotropic; however, we have been able to identify key regulatory players upstream cacao flavonoid biosynthesis in STPs, including TWO-COMPONENT SYSTEM and ROS-signaling genes. The crosstalk between flavonoid biosynthesis and regulatory networks led to understand the dynamics of flavonoid production and degradation in response to light-driven ROS signals. This can be used to optimize the time, and the yield of in vitro targeted metabolites in large-scale culture systems.
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