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Phytochemistry. 2011 Sep;72(13):1576-84. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2010.12.014. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Evolutionary recruitment of a flavin-dependent monooxygenase for stabilization of sequestered pyrrolizidine alkaloids in arctiids.

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Botanical Institute, Biochemical Ecology and Molecular Evolution, Christian-Albrechts University Kiel, Germany.


Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are secondary metabolites that are produced by certain plants as a chemical defense against herbivores. They represent a promising system to study the evolution of pathways in plant secondary metabolism. Recently, a specific gene of this pathway has been shown to have originated by duplication of a gene involved in primary metabolism followed by diversification and optimization for its specific function in the defense machinery of these plants. Furthermore, pyrrolizidine alkaloids are one of the best-studied examples of a plant defense system that has been recruited by several insect lineages for their own chemical defense. In each case, this recruitment requires sophisticated mechanisms of adaptations, e.g., efficient excretion, transport, suppression of toxification, or detoxification. In this review, we briefly summarize detoxification mechanism known for pyrrolizidine alkaloids and focus on pyrrolizidine alkaloid N-oxidation as one of the mechanisms allowing insects to accumulate the sequestered toxins in an inactivated protoxic form. Recent research into the evolution of pyrrolizidine alkaloid N-oxygenases of adapted arctiid moths (Lepidoptera) has shown that this enzyme originated by the duplication of a gene encoding a flavin-dependent monooxygenase of unknown function early in the arctiid lineage. The available data suggest several similarities in the molecular evolution of this adaptation strategy of insects to the mechanisms described previously for the evolution of the respective pathway in plants.

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