Successful herbivore attack due to metabolic diversion of a plant chemical defense.
ABSTRACT: Plants protect themselves against herbivory with a diverse array of repellent or toxic secondary metabolites. However, many herbivorous insects have developed counteradaptations that enable them to feed on chemically defended plants without apparent negative effects. Here, we present evidence that larvae of the specialist insect, Pieris rapae (cabbage white butterfly, Lepidoptera: Pieridae), are biochemically adapted to the glucosinolate-myrosinase system, the major chemical defense of their host plants. The defensive function of the glucosinolate-myrosinase system results from the toxic isothiocyanates that are released when glucosinolates are hydrolyzed by myrosinases on tissue disruption. We show that the hydrolysis reaction is redirected toward the formation of nitriles instead of isothiocyanates if plant material is ingested by P. rapae larvae, and that the nitriles are excreted with the feces. The ability to form nitriles is due to a larval gut protein, designated nitrile-specifier protein, that by itself has no hydrolytic activity on glucosinolates and that is unrelated to any functionally characterized protein. Nitrile-specifier protein appears to be the key biochemical counteradaptation that allows P. rapae to feed with impunity on plants containing glucosinolates and myrosinases. This finding sheds light on the ecology and evolution of plant-insect interactions and suggests novel highly selective pest management strategies.
Project description:One of the best-studied plant defense systems, the glucosinolate-myrosinase system of the Brassicales, is composed of thioglucosides known as glucosinolates and their hydrolytic enzymes, the myrosinases. Tissue disruption brings these components together, and bioactive products are formed as a consequence of myrosinase-catalyzed glucosinolate hydrolysis. Among these products, isothiocyanates have attracted most interest as chemical plant defenses against herbivores and pathogens and health-promoting compounds in the human diet. Previous research has identified specifier proteins whose presence results in the formation of alternative product types, e.g., nitriles, at the expense of isothiocyanates. The biological roles of specifier proteins and alternative breakdown products are poorly understood. Here, we assessed glucosinolate breakdown product profiles obtained upon maceration of roots, seedlings and seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana Columbia-0. We identified simple nitriles as the predominant breakdown products of the major endogenous aliphatic glucosinolates in root, seed, and seedling homogenates. In agreement with this finding, genes encoding nitrile-specifier proteins (NSPs) are expressed in roots, seeds, and seedlings. Analysis of glucosinolate breakdown in mutants with T-DNA insertions in any of the five NSP genes demonstrated, that simple nitrile formation upon tissue disruption depended almost entirely on NSP2 in seeds and mainly on NSP1 in seedlings. In roots, about 70-80% of the nitrile-forming activity was due to NSP1 and NSP3. Thus, glucosinolate breakdown product profiles are organ-specifically regulated in A. thaliana Col-0, and high proportions of simple nitriles are formed in some parts of the plant. This should be considered in future studies on biological roles of the glucosinolate-myrosinase system.
Project description:Glucosinolates are plant secondary metabolites present in Brassicaceae plants such as the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Intact glucosinolates are believed to be biologically inactive, whereas degradation products after hydrolysis have multiple roles in growth regulation and defense. The degradation of glucosinolates is catalyzed by thioglucosidases called myrosinases and leads by default to the formation of isothiocyanates. The interaction of a protein called epithiospecifier protein (ESP) with myrosinase diverts the reaction toward the production of epithionitriles or nitriles depending on the glucosinolate structure. Here we report the identification of a new group of nitrile-specifier proteins (AtNSPs) in A. thaliana able to generate nitriles in conjunction with myrosinase and a more detailed characterization of one member (AtNSP2). Recombinant AtNSP2 expressed in Escherichia coli was used to test its impact on the outcome of glucosinolate hydrolysis using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry approach. AtNSP proteins share 30-45% sequence homology with A. thaliana ESP. Although AtESP and AtNSP proteins can switch myrosinase-catalyzed degradation of 2-propenylglucosinolate from isothiocyanate to nitrile, only AtESP generates the corresponding epithionitrile. Using the aromatic benzylglucosinolate, recombinant AtNSP2 is also able to direct product formation to the nitrile. Analysis of glucosinolate hydrolysis profiles of transgenic A. thaliana plants overexpressing AtNSP2 confirms its nitrile-specifier activity in planta. In silico expression analysis reveals distinctive expression patterns of AtNSPs, which supports a biological role for these proteins. In conclusion, we show that AtNSPs belonging to a new family of A. thaliana proteins structurally related to AtESP divert product formation from myrosinase-catalyzed glucosinolate hydrolysis and, thereby, likely affect the biological consequences of glucosinolate degradation. We discuss similarities and properties of AtNSPs and related proteins and the biological implications.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The glucosinolate-myrosinase system is an activated chemical defense system found in plants of the Brassicales order. Glucosinolates are stored separately from their hydrolytic enzymes, the myrosinases, in plant tissues. Upon tissue damage, e.g. by herbivory, glucosinolates and myrosinases get mixed and glucosinolates are broken down to an array of biologically active compounds of which isothiocyanates are toxic to a wide range of organisms. Specifier proteins occur in some, but not all glucosinolate-containing plants and promote the formation of biologically active non-isothiocyanate products upon myrosinase-catalyzed glucosinolate breakdown. RESULTS: Based on a phytochemical screening among representatives of the Brassicales order, we selected candidate species for identification of specifier protein cDNAs. We identified ten specifier proteins from a range of species of the Brassicaceae and assigned each of them to one of the three specifier protein types (NSP, nitrile-specifier protein, ESP, epithiospecifier protein, TFP, thiocyanate-forming protein) after heterologous expression in Escherichia coli. Together with nine known specifier proteins and three putative specifier proteins found in databases, we subjected the newly identified specifier proteins to phylogenetic analyses. Specifier proteins formed three major clusters, named AtNSP5-cluster, AtNSP1-cluster, and ESP/TFP cluster. Within the ESP/TFP cluster, specifier proteins grouped according to the Brassicaceae lineage they were identified from. Non-synonymous vs. synonymous substitution rate ratios suggested purifying selection to act on specifier protein genes. CONCLUSIONS: Among specifier proteins, NSPs represent the ancestral activity. The data support a monophyletic origin of ESPs from NSPs. The split between NSPs and ESPs/TFPs happened before the radiation of the core Brassicaceae. Future analyses have to show if TFP activity evolved from ESPs at least twice independently in different Brassicaceae lineages as suggested by the phylogeny. The ability to form non-isothiocyanate products by specifier protein activity may provide plants with a selective advantage. The evolution of specifier proteins in the Brassicaceae demonstrates the plasticity of secondary metabolism within an activated plant defense system.
Project description:Glucosinolates, a group of sulfur-rich thioglucosides found in plants of the order Brassicales, have attracted a lot of interest as chemical defenses of plants and health promoting substances in human diet. They are accumulated separately from their hydrolyzing enzymes, myrosinases, within the intact plant, but undergo myrosinase-catalyzed hydrolysis upon tissue disruption. This results in various biologically active products, e.g. isothiocyanates, simple nitriles, epithionitriles, and organic thiocyanates. While formation of isothiocyanates proceeds by a spontaneous rearrangement of the glucosinolate aglucone, aglucone conversion to the other products involves specifier proteins under physiological conditions. Specifier proteins appear to act with high specificity, but their exact roles and the structural bases of their specificity are presently unknown. Previous research identified the motif EXXXDXXXH as potential iron binding site required for activity, but crystal structures of recombinant specifier proteins lacked the iron cofactor. Here, we provide experimental evidence for the presence of iron (most likely Fe2+) in purified recombinant thiocyanate-forming protein from Thlaspi arvense (TaTFP) using a Ferene S-based photometric assay as well as Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. Iron binding and activity depend on E266, D270, and H274 suggesting a direct interaction of Fe2+ with these residues. Furthermore, we demonstrate presence of iron in epithiospecifier protein and nitrile-specifier protein 3 from Arabidopsis thaliana (AtESP and AtNSP3). We also present a homology model of AtNSP3. In agreement with this model, iron binding and activity of AtNSP3 depend on E386, D390, and H394. The homology model further suggests that the active site of AtNSP3 imposes fewer restrictions to the glucosinolate aglucone conformation than that of TaTFP and AtESP due to its larger size. This may explain why AtNSP3 does not support epithionitrile or thiocyanate formation, which likely requires exact positioning of the aglucone thiolate relative to the side chain.
Project description:The association of cabbage white butterflies (Pieris spec., Lepidoptera: Pieridae) with their glucosinolate-containing host plants represents a well-investigated example of the sequential evolution of plant defenses and insect herbivore counteradaptations. The defensive potential of glucosinolates, a group of amino acid-derived thioglucosides present in plants of the Brassicales order, arises mainly from their rapid breakdown upon tissue disruption resulting in formation of toxic isothiocyanates. Larvae of P. rapae are able to feed exclusively on glucosinolate-containing plants due to expression of a nitrile-specifier protein in their gut which redirects glucosinolate breakdown to the formation of nitriles. The release of equimolar amounts of cyanide upon further metabolism of the benzylglucosinolate-derived nitrile suggests that the larvae are also equipped with efficient means of cyanide detoxification such as ?-cyanoalanine synthases or rhodaneses. While insect ?-cyanoalanine synthases have recently been identified at the molecular level, no sequence information was available of characterized insect rhodaneses. Here, we identify and characterize two single-domain rhodaneses from P. rapae, PrTST1 and PrTST2. The enzymes differ in their kinetic properties, predicted subcellular localization and expression in P. rapae indicating different physiological roles. Phylogenetic analysis together with putative lepidopteran rhodanese sequences indicates an expansion of the rhodanese family in Pieridae.
Project description:Brassicales plants produce glucosinolates and myrosinases that generate toxic isothiocyanates conferring broad resistance against pathogens and herbivorous insects. Nevertheless, some cosmopolitan fungal pathogens, such as the necrotrophic white mold Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, are able to infect many plant hosts including glucosinolate producers. Here, we show that S. sclerotiorum infection activates the glucosinolate-myrosinase system, and isothiocyanates contribute to resistance against this fungus. S. sclerotiorum metabolizes isothiocyanates via two independent pathways: conjugation to glutathione and, more effectively, hydrolysis to amines. The latter pathway features an isothiocyanate hydrolase that is homologous to a previously characterized bacterial enzyme, and converts isothiocyanate into products that are not toxic to the fungus. The isothiocyanate hydrolase promotes fungal growth in the presence of the toxins, and contributes to the virulence of S. sclerotiorum on glucosinolate-producing plants.
Project description:Many plant phytochemicals constitute binary enzyme-glucoside systems and function in plant defence. In brassicas, the enzyme myrosinase is confined to specific myrosin cells that separate the enzyme from its substrate; the glucosinolates. The myrosinase-catalysed release of toxic and bioactive compounds such as isothiocyanates, upon activation or tissue damage, has been termed 'the mustard oil bomb' and characterized as a 'toxic mine' in plant defence. The removal of myrosin cells and the enzyme that triggers the release of phytochemicals have been investigated by genetically modifying Brassica napus plants to remove myrosinase-storing idioblasts. A construct with the seed myrosin cell-specific Myr1.Bn1 promoter was used to express a ribonuclease, barnase. Transgenic plants ectopically expressing barnase were embryo lethal. Co-expressing barnase under the control of the Myr1.Bn1 promoter with the barnase inhibitor, barstar, under the control of the cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter enabled a selective and controlled death of myrosin cells without affecting plant viability. Ablation of myrosin cells was confirmed with light and electron microscopy, with immunohistological analysis and immunogold-electron microscopy analysis showing empty holes where myrosin cells normally are localized. Further evidence for a successful myrosin cell ablation comes from immunoblots showing absence of myrosinase and negligible myrosinase activity, and autolysis experiments showing negligible production of glucosinolate hydrolysis products. The plants where the myrosin defence cells have been ablated and named 'MINELESS plants'. The epithiospecifier protein profile and glucosinolate levels were changed in MINELESS plants, pointing to localization of myrosinases and a 35 kDa epithiospecifier protein in myrosin cells and a reduced turnover of glucosinolates in MINELESS plants.
Project description:Oilseed rape and other crop plants of the family Brassicaceae contain a unique defence system known as the glucosinolate-myrosinase system or the 'mustard oil bomb'. The 'mustard oil bomb' which includes myrosinase and glucosinolates is triggered by abiotic and biotic stress, resulting in the formation of toxic products such as nitriles and isothiocyanates. Myrosinase is present in specialist cells known as 'myrosin cells' and can also be known as toxic mines. The myrosin cell idioblasts of Brassica napus were genetically reprogrammed to undergo controlled cell death (ablation) during seed development. These myrosin cell-free plants have been named MINELESS as they lack toxic mines. This has led to the production of oilseed rape with a significant reduction both in myrosinase levels and in the hydrolysis of glucosinolates. Even though the myrosinase activity in MINELESS was very low compared with the wild type, variation was observed. This variability was overcome by producing homozygous seeds. A microspore culture technique involving non-fertile haploid MINELESS plants was developed and these plants were treated with colchicine to produce double haploid MINELESS plants with full fertility. Double haploid MINELESS plants had significantly reduced myrosinase levels and glucosinolate hydrolysis products. Wild-type and MINELESS plants exhibited significant differences in growth parameters such as plant height, leaf traits, matter accumulation, and yield parameters. The growth and developmental pattern of MINELESS plants was relatively slow compared with the wild type. The characteristics of the pure double haploid MINELESS plant are described and its importance for future biochemical, agricultural, dietary, functional genomics, and plant defence studies is discussed.
Project description:Plants have evolved a variety of mechanisms for dealing with insect herbivory among which chemical defense through secondary metabolites plays a prominent role. Physiological, behavioural and sensorical adaptations to these chemicals provide herbivores with selective advantages allowing them to diversify within the newly occupied ecological niche. In turn, this may influence the evolution of plant metabolism giving rise to e.g. new chemical defenses. The association of Pierid butterflies and plants of the Brassicales has been cited as an illustrative example of this adaptive process known as 'coevolutionary armsrace'. All plants of the Brassicales are defended by the glucosinolate-myrosinase system to which larvae of cabbage white butterflies and related species are biochemically adapted through a gut nitrile-specifier protein. Here, we provide evidence by metabolite profiling and enzyme assays that metabolism of benzylglucosinolate in Pieris rapae results in release of equimolar amounts of cyanide, a potent inhibitor of cellular respiration. We further demonstrate that P. rapae larvae develop on transgenic Arabidopsis plants with ectopic production of the cyanogenic glucoside dhurrin without ill effects. Metabolite analyses and fumigation experiments indicate that cyanide is detoxified by ?-cyanoalanine synthase and rhodanese in the larvae. Based on these results as well as on the facts that benzylglucosinolate was one of the predominant glucosinolates in ancient Brassicales and that ancient Brassicales lack nitrilases involved in alternative pathways, we propose that the ability of Pierid species to safely handle cyanide contributed to the primary host shift from Fabales to Brassicales that occured about 75 million years ago and was followed by Pierid species diversification.
Project description:Brassicales species rich in glucosinolates are used for biofumigation, a process based on releasing enzymatically toxic isothiocyanates into the soil. These hydrolysis products are volatile and often reactive compounds. Moreover, glucosinolates can be degraded also without the presence of the hydrolytic enzyme myrosinase which might contribute to bioactive effects. Thus, in the present study the stability of Brassicaceae plant-derived and pure glucosinolates hydrolysis products was studied using three different soils (model biofumigation). In addition, the degradation of pure 2-propenyl glucosinolate was investigated with special regard to the formation of volatile breakdown products. Finally, the influence of pure glucosinolate degradation on the bacterial community composition was evaluated using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of 16S rRNA gene amplified from total community DNA. The model biofumigation study revealed that the structure of the hydrolysis products had a significant impact on their stability in the soil but not the soil type. Following the degradation of pure 2-propenyl glucosinolate in the soils, the nitrile as well as the isothiocyanate can be the main degradation products, depending on the soil type. Furthermore, the degradation was shown to be both chemically as well as biologically mediated as autoclaving reduced degradation. The nitrile was the major product of the chemical degradation and its formation increased with iron content of the soil. Additionally, the bacterial community composition was significantly affected by adding pure 2-propenyl glucosinolate, the effect being more pronounced than in treatments with myrosinase added to the glucosinolate. Therefore, glucosinolates can have a greater effect on soil bacterial community composition than their hydrolysis products.