Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Plants and mammals contain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their membranes. PUFAs belong to the most oxygen sensitive molecules encountered in nature. It would seem that nature has selected this property of PUFAs for signalling purposes: PUFAs are stored in the surface of cells and organelles not in free form but conjugated to phospho- and galactolipids. Any change in membrane structure apparently activates membrane-bound phospholipases, which cleave the conjugates. The obtained free PUFAs are substrates for lipoxygenases (LOX). These transform PUFAs to lipidhydroperoxides (LOOHs). LOOHs are converted to a great variety of secondary products. These lipid-peroxidation (LPO) products and the resulting generated products thereof represent biological signals, which do not require a preceding activation of genes. They are produced as a non-specific response to a large variety of external or internal impacts, which therefore do not need interaction with specific receptors. When, due to an external impact, e.g. attack of a microorganism, or to a change in temperature, the amount of liberated free PUFAs exceeds a certain threshold, LOX commit suicide. Thus iron ions, located in the active centre of LOX, are liberated. Iron ions react with LOOHs in the close surroundings by generating alkoxy radicals (LO.). These induce a non-enzymatic LPO. A fraction of the LO. radicals generated from linoleic acid (LPO products derived from linoleic acid play a dominant role in signalling which was previously overlooked) is converted to 2,4-dienals which induce the programmed cell death (PCD) and the hypersensitive reaction (HR). While peroxyl radicals (LOO.) generated as intermediates in the course of an enzymatic LPO are transformed within the enzyme complex to corresponding anions (LOO–), and thus lose their reactivity, peroxyl radicals generated in non-enzymatic reactions are not deactivated. They not only react by abstraction of hydrogen atoms from activated X-H bonds of molecules in their close vicinity, but also by epoxidation of double bonds and oxidation of a variety of biological molecules, causing a dramatic change in molecular structure which finally leads to cell death. As long as reducing agents, like glutathione, or compounds with free phenolic groups are available, the amount of LOOHs is kept low. Cell death is induced in a defined way by apoptosis. But when the reducing agents have been consumed, PCD seems to switch to necrotic processes. Thus proliferation is induced by minor changes at the cell membrane, while slow changes at cell membranes are linked with apoptosis (e.g. response to attack of microorganisms or drought) and necrosis (severe wounding), depending only on the amount, but not on the type, of applied stimulus.
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