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Plant Physiol. 2009 Jan;149(1):561-74. doi: 10.1104/pp.108.130732. Epub 2008 Nov 5.

The genetic basis of constitutive and herbivore-induced ESP-independent nitrile formation in Arabidopsis.

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Institut für Pharmazeutische Biologie, Technische Universität Braunschweig, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany.


Glucosinolates are a group of thioglucosides that are components of an activated chemical defense found in the Brassicales. Plant tissue damage results in hydrolysis of glucosinolates by endogenous thioglucosidases known as myrosinases. Spontaneous rearrangement of the aglucone yields reactive isothiocyanates that are toxic to many organisms. In the presence of specifier proteins, alternative products, namely epithionitriles, simple nitriles, and thiocyanates with different biological activities, are formed at the expense of isothiocyanates. Recently, simple nitriles were recognized to serve distinct functions in plant-insect interactions. Here, we show that simple nitrile formation in Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) ecotype Columbia-0 rosette leaves increases in response to herbivory and that this increase is independent of the known epithiospecifier protein (ESP). We combined phylogenetic analysis, a screen of Arabidopsis mutants, recombinant protein characterization, and expression quantitative trait locus mapping to identify a gene encoding a nitrile-specifier protein (NSP) responsible for constitutive and herbivore-induced simple nitrile formation in Columbia-0 rosette leaves. AtNSP1 is one of five Arabidopsis ESP homologues that promote simple nitrile, but not epithionitrile or thiocyanate, formation. Four of these homologues possess one or two lectin-like jacalin domains, which share a common ancestry with the jacalin domains of the putative Arabidopsis myrosinase-binding proteins MBP1 and MBP2. A sixth ESP homologue lacked specifier activity and likely represents the ancestor of the gene family with a different biochemical function. By illuminating the genetic and biochemical bases of simple nitrile formation, our study provides new insights into the evolution of metabolic diversity in a complex plant defense system.

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