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Antioxid Redox Signal. 2013 Sep 20;19(9):970-89. doi: 10.1089/ars.2012.5080. Epub 2013 Feb 15.

Reactive oxygen species in plant pathogenesis: the role of perylenequinone photosensitizers.

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  • 1Department of Plant Biology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.



Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play multiple roles in interactions between plants and microbes, both as host defense mechanisms and as mediators of pathogenic and symbiotic associations. One source of ROS in these interactions are photoactivated, ROS-generating perylenequinone pigments produced via polyketide metabolic pathways in plant-associated fungi. These natural products, including cercosporin, elsinochromes, hypocrellins, and calphostin C, are being utilized as medicinal agents, enzyme inhibitors, and in tumor therapy, but in nature, they play a role in the establishment of pathogenic associations between fungi and their plant hosts.


Photoactivated perylenequinones are photosensitizers that use light energy to form singlet oxygen (¹O₂) and free radical oxygen species which damage cellular components based on localization of the perylenequinone molecule. Production of perylenequinones during infection commonly results in lipid peroxidation and membrane damage, leading to leakage of nutrients from cells into the intercellular spaces colonized by the pathogen. Perylenequinones show almost universal toxicity against organisms, including plants, mice, bacteria, and most fungi. The producing fungi are resistant, however, and serve as models for understanding resistance mechanisms.


Studies of resistance mechanisms by perylenequinone-producing fungi such as Cercospora species are leading to an understanding of cellular resistance to ¹O₂ and oxidative stress. Recent studies show commonalities between resistance mechanisms in these fungi with extensive studies of ¹O₂ and oxidative stress responses in photosynthetic organisms.


Such studies hold promise both for improved medical use and for engineering crop plants for disease resistance.

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