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      Chlorophyll Breakdown in Senescent Banana Leaves: Catabolism Reprogrammed for Biosynthesis of Persistent Blue Fluorescent Tetrapyrroles


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          Chlorophyll breakdown is a visual phenomenon of leaf senescence and fruit ripening. It leads to the formation of colorless chlorophyll catabolites, a group of (chlorophyll-derived bilin-type) linear tetrapyrroles. Here, analysis and structure elucidation of the chlorophyll breakdown products in leaves of banana ( Musa acuminata) is reported. In senescent leaves of this monocot all chlorophyll catabolites identified were hypermodified fluorescent chlorophyll catabolites ( hmFCCs). Surprisingly, nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites (NCCs) were not found, the often abundant and apparently typical final chlorophyll breakdown products in senescent leaves. As a rule, FCCs exist only fleetingly, and they isomerize rapidly to NCCs in the senescent plant cell. Amazingly, in the leaves of banana plants, persistent hmFCCs were identified that accounted for about 80 % of the chlorophyll broken down, and yellow leaves of M. acuminata display a strong blue luminescence. The structures of eight hmFCCs from banana leaves were analyzed by spectroscopic means. The massive accumulation of the hmFCCs in banana leaves, and their functional group characteristics, indicate a chlorophyll breakdown path, the downstream transformations of which are entirely reprogrammed towards the generation of persistent and blue fluorescent FCCs. As expressed earlier in related studies, the present findings call for attention, as to still elusive biological roles of these linear tetrapyrroles.

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          Bilirubin, an abundant pigment that causes jaundice, has long lacked any clear physiologic role. It arises from enzymatic reduction by biliverdin reductase of biliverdin, a product of heme oxygenase activity. Bilirubin is a potent antioxidant that we show can protect cells from a 10,000-fold excess of H2O2. We report that bilirubin is a major physiologic antioxidant cytoprotectant. Thus, cellular depletion of bilirubin by RNA interference markedly augments tissue levels of reactive oxygen species and causes apoptotic cell death. Depletion of glutathione, generally regarded as a physiologic antioxidant cytoprotectant, elicits lesser increases in reactive oxygen species and cell death. The potent physiologic antioxidant actions of bilirubin reflect an amplification cycle whereby bilirubin, acting as an antioxidant, is itself oxidized to biliverdin and then recycled by biliverdin reductase back to bilirubin. This redox cycle may constitute the principal physiologic function of bilirubin.
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            Electrospray ionization has recently emerged as a powerful technique for producing intact ions in vacuo from large and complex species in solution. To an extent greater than has previously been possible with the more familiar "soft" ionization methods, this technique makes the power and elegance of mass spectrometric analysis applicable to the large and fragile polar molecules that play such vital roles in biological systems. The distinguishing features of electrospray spectra for large molecules are coherent sequences of peaks whose component ions are multiply charged, the ions of each peak differing by one charge from those of adjacent neighbors in the sequence. Spectra have been obtained for biopolymers including oligonucleotides and proteins, the latter having molecular weights up to 130,000, with as yet no evidence of an upper limit.
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              Nitrogen metabolism and remobilization during senescence.

              Senescence is a highly organized and well-regulated process. As much as 75% of total cellular nitrogen may be located in mesophyll chloroplasts of C(3)-plants. Proteolysis of chloroplast proteins begins in an early phase of senescence and the liberated amino acids can be exported to growing parts of the plant (e.g. maturing fruits). Rubisco and other stromal enzymes can be degraded in isolated chloroplasts, implying the involvement of plastidial peptide hydrolases. Whether or not ATP is required and if stromal proteins are modified (e.g. by reactive oxygen species) prior to their degradation are questions still under debate. Several proteins, in particular cysteine proteases, have been demonstrated to be specifically expressed during senescence. Their contribution to the general degradation of chloroplast proteins is unclear. The accumulation in intact cells of peptide fragments and inhibitor studies suggest that multiple degradation pathways may exist for stromal proteins and that vacuolar endopeptidases might also be involved under certain conditions. The breakdown of chlorophyll-binding proteins associated with the thylakoid membrane is less well investigated. The degradation of these proteins requires the simultaneous catabolism of chlorophylls. The breakdown of chlorophylls has been elucidated during the last decade. Interestingly, nitrogen present in chlorophyll is not exported from senescencing leaves, but remains within the cells in the form of linear tetrapyrrolic catabolites that accumulate in the vacuole. The degradation pathways for chlorophylls and chloroplast proteins are partially interconnected.

                Author and article information

                Chemistry (Weinheim an Der Bergstrasse, Germany)
                WILEY-VCH Verlag (Weinheim )
                09 September 2013
                14 August 2013
                : 19
                : 37
                : 12294-12305
                [[a] ]Institute of Organic Chemistry & Center for Molecular Biosciences, University of Innsbruck 6020 Innsbruck (Austria) E-mail: Bernhard.kraeutler@ 123456uibk.ac.at
                Author notes

                Present address: Institut für Chemie, FG Organische Chemie, Technical University of Berlin, 10623 Berlin (Germany)

                © 2013 The Authors. Published by Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.

                Re-use of this article is permitted in accordance with the Creative Commons Deed, Attribution 2.5, which does not permit commercial exploitation.

                Full Papers


                biosynthesis, chlorophyll, fluorescence, structures, tetrapyrroles


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