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Vitam Horm. 2007;76:99-134.

Studies in vitamin E: biochemistry and molecular biology of tocopherol quinones.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


Tocopherols and tocotrienols, parent congeners in the vitamin E family, function as phenolic antioxidants. However, there has been little interest in their quinone electrophiles formed as a consequence of oxidation reactions, even though unique biological properties were suggested by early studies conducted immediately after the discovery of vitamin E. Oxidation of tocopherols and tocotrienols produces para- and ortho-quinones, and quinone methides, while oxidation of their carboxyethyl hydroxychroman derivatives produces quinone lactones. These quinone electrophiles are grouped in two subclasses, the nonarylating fully methylated alpha-family and the arylating desmethyl beta-, gamma-, and delta-family. Arylating quinone electrophiles form Michael adducts with thiol nucleophiles, provided by cysteinyl proteins or peptides, which can be identified and quantified by tetramethylammonium hydroxide thermochemolysis. They have striking biological properties which differ significantly from their nonarylating congeners. They are highly cytotoxic, inducing characteristic apoptotic changes in cultured cells. Cytotoxicity is intimately associated with the induction of endoplasmic reticulum stress and a consequent unfolded protein response involving the pancreatic ER kinase (PERK) signaling pathway that commits overstressed cells to apoptosis. The step-function difference between arylating and nonarylating tocopherol quinones is conceivably the basis for distinct biological properties of parent tocopherols, including the epigenetic modification of a histone thiol, the ceramide pathway, natriuresis, and the activity of COX-2, NF-kappaB, PPARgamma, and cyclin. The role of alpha-tocopherol in the origin and evolution of the western hominin diet, the so-called "Mediterranean" diet, and the prominence of alpha-tocopherol in colostrum, mother's milk, and infant nutrition are considered. Finally, the discordance introduced into the diet by arylating tocopherol quinone precursors through the wide use of vegetable oils in deep-frying is recognized.

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