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Plant Cell. 2001 Dec;13(12):2793-807.

The Arabidopsis epithiospecifier protein promotes the hydrolysis of glucosinolates to nitriles and influences Trichoplusia ni herbivory.

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Department of Genetics and Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Carl-Zeiss-Promenade 10, D-07745 Jena, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Plant Cell. 2006 Jun;18(6):1537.


Glucosinolates are anionic thioglucosides that have become one of the most frequently studied groups of defensive metabolites in plants. When tissue damage occurs, the thioglucoside linkage is hydrolyzed by enzymes known as myrosinases, resulting in the formation of a variety of products that are active against herbivores and pathogens. In an effort to learn more about the molecular genetic and biochemical regulation of glucosinolate hydrolysis product formation, we analyzed leaf samples of 122 Arabidopsis ecotypes. A distinct polymorphism was observed with all ecotypes producing primarily isothiocyanates or primarily nitriles. The ecotypes Columbia (Col) and Landsberg erecta (Ler) differed in their hydrolysis products; therefore, the Col x Ler recombinant inbred lines were used for mapping the genes controlling this polymorphism. The major quantitative trait locus (QTL) affecting nitrile versus isothiocyanate formation was found very close to a gene encoding a homolog of a Brassica napus epithiospecifier protein (ESP), which causes the formation of epithionitriles instead of isothiocyanates during glucosinolate hydrolysis in the seeds of certain Brassicaceae. The heterologously expressed Arabidopsis ESP was able to convert glucosinolates both to epithionitriles and to simple nitriles in the presence of myrosinase, and thus it was more versatile than previously described ESPs. The role of ESP in plant defense is uncertain, because the generalist herbivore Trichoplusia ni (the cabbage looper) was found to feed more readily on nitrile-producing than on isothiocyanate-producing Arabidopsis. However, isothiocyanates are frequently used as recognition cues by specialist herbivores, and so the formation of nitriles instead of isothiocyanates may allow Arabidopsis to be less apparent to specialists.

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