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J Chem Ecol. 2008 May;34(5):601-4. doi: 10.1007/s10886-008-9464-9. Epub 2008 Apr 12.

Defense-inducing volatiles: in search of the active motif.

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  • 1Departamento de Ingeniería Genética, CINVESTAV, Km. 9.6 Libramiento Norte, Irapuato CP 36821, Guanajuato, México.


Herbivore-induced volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are widely appreciated as an indirect defense mechanism since carnivorous arthropods use VOCs as cues for host localization and then attack herbivores. Another function of VOCs is plant-plant signaling. That VOCs elicit defensive responses in neighboring plants has been reported from various species, and different compounds have been found to be active. In order to search for a structural motif that characterizes active VOCs, we used lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), which responds to VOCs released from damaged plants with an increased secretion of extrafloral nectar (EFN). We exposed lima bean to (Z)-3-hexenyl acetate, a substance naturally released from damaged lima bean and known to induce EFN secretion, and to several structurally related compounds. (E)-3-hexenyl acetate, (E)-2-hexenyl acetate, 5-hexenyl acetate, (Z)-3-hexenylisovalerate, and (Z)-3-hexenylbutyrate all elicited significant increases in EFN secretion, demonstrating that neither the (Z)-configuration nor the position of the double-bond nor the size of the acid moiety are critical for the EFN-inducing effect. Our result is not consistent with previous concepts that postulate reactive electrophile species (Michael-acceptor-systems) for defense-induction in Arabidopsis. Instead, we postulate that physicochemical processes, including interactions with odorant binding proteins and resulting in changes in transmembrane potentials, can underlie VOCs-mediated signaling processes.

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