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Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2008 Oct;7(10):1114-20. doi: 10.1039/b802356p. Epub 2008 Jun 3.

Chlorophyll breakdown and chlorophyll catabolites in leaves and fruit.

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Institute of Organic Chemistry & Centre for Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck, A-6020, Innsbruck, Austria.


Chlorophyll metabolism probably is the most visible manifestation of life. Total annual turnover of chlorophyll has been estimated to involve more than 1000 million tons. Surprisingly, chlorophyll catabolism has remained an enigma until less than twenty years ago, when a colorless chlorophyll catabolite from senescent plant leaves was identified and its structure was elucidated. In the meantime, chlorophyll breakdown products have been identified in a variety of plant leaves and their structural features have been elucidated. Most recently, chlorophyll breakdown products have also been identified in some ripening fruit. Chlorophyll breakdown in vascular plants only fleetingly involves enzyme-bound colored intermediates. The stage of fluorescent catabolites is also passed rapidly, as these isomerize further to colorless nonfluorescent tetrapyrrolic catabolites. The latter accumulate in the vacuoles of de-greened leaves and are considered the final products of controlled chlorophyll breakdown. The same tetrapyrroles are also found in ripening fruit and are effective antioxidants. Chlorophyll breakdown leads to tetrapyrroles that appear to have physiologically beneficial chemical properties, and it may thus not merely be a detoxification process.

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