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Bioorg Med Chem. 2003 Mar 20;11(6):853-62.

The role of dicarbonyl compounds in non-enzymatic crosslinking: a structure-activity study.

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  • 1Department of Plant and Microbial Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.


The Maillard reaction is a complex network of reactions that has been shown to result in the non-enzymatic crosslinking of proteins. Recent attention has focussed on the role of alpha-dicarbonyl compounds as important in vivo contributors to protein crosslinking but, despite extensive research, the molecular mechanisms of the crosslinking reaction remain open to conjecture. In particular, no relationship between the structure of the carbonyl-containing compounds and their activity as crosslinking agents has been established. In an effort to elucidate a structure-reactivity relationship, a wide range of dicarbonyl compounds, including linear, cyclic, di-aldehyde and di-ketone compounds, were reacted with the model protein ribonuclease A and their crosslinking activity assessed. Methylglyoxal and glutaraldehyde were found to be the most efficient crosslinkers, whilst closely related molecules effected crosslinking at a much lower rate. Cyclopentan-1,2-dione was also shown to be a reactive crosslinking agent. The efficiency of methylglyoxal and glutaraldehyde at crosslinking is thought to be related to their ability to form stable heterocyclic compounds that are the basis of protein crosslinks. The reasons for the striking reactivity of these two compounds, compared to closely related structures is explained by subtle balances between competing pathways in a complex reaction network.

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