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Selective inhibition of jasmonic acid accumulation by a small α, β-unsaturated carbonyl and phenidone reveals different modes of octadecanoid signalling activation in response to insect elicitors and green leaf volatiles in Zea mays

Jurgen Engelberth

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, University of Texas at San Antonio, One UTSA Circle, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA

BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:377  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-377

Published: 3 October 2011



Plants often release a complex blend of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in response to insect herbivore damage. Among those blends of VOC green leaf volatiles (GLV) have been demonstrated to function as defence signals between plants, thereby providing protection against impending herbivory. A problem in understanding the mode of action of these 6-carbon aldehydes, alcohols, and esters is caused by their structural diversity. Besides different degrees of oxidation, E-2- as well as Z-3-configured isomers are often released. This study was therefore initiated to determine the structural requirement necessary to exhibit biological activity measured as jasmonic acid (JA) accumulation in Zea mays seedlings.


The structure/function analysis of green leaf volatiles and related compounds revealed that an olefinic bond in position 2 or 3 and a size of 6-8 carbons is required for biological activity in maize. Also, it was found that the presence of an α, β-unsaturated carbonyl is not a prerequisite for activity. However, by treating plants first with volatile acrolein it was discovered that this smallest α, β-unsaturated carbonyl inhibits JA accumulation in response to insect elicitor treatment, but not after GLV exposure. This selective inhibitory effect was also found for phenidone, an inhibitor of lipoxygenases. These findings led to the discovery of a pool of protein-associated 12-oxo-phytodienoic acid, a biosynthetic precursor of JA, which appeared to be rapidly converted into JA upon exposure to GLV.


The structure/function analysis of GLV demonstrates a high degree of correlation between the compounds released by wounded plants in nature and their biological activity. The selective inhibitory effects of acrolein and phenidone on insect elicitor- and GLV-induced JA accumulation in maize led to the discovery of a pool of protein-associated precursor, which is rapidly activated and transformed to JA after exposure to GLV. This novel mechanism for JA accumulation sheds new light on the biosynthetic variability of the octadecanoid signalling pathway and explains the observed differences in the response of maize seedling to inhibitors of JA accumulation.