Oxidative scission of plant cell wall polysaccharides by ascorbate-induced hydroxyl radicals

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Scission of plant cell wall polysaccharides in vivo has generally been assumed to be enzymic. However, in the presence of L-ascorbate, such polysaccharides are shown to undergo nonenzymic scission under physiologically relevant conditions. Scission of xyloglucan by 1 mM ascorbate had a pH optimum of 4.5, and the maximum scission rate was reached after a 10-25-min delay. Catalase prevented the scission, whereas added H2O2 (0.1-10 mM) increased the scission rate and shortened the delay. Ascorbate caused detectable xyloglucan scission above approx. 5 mu M. Dehydroascorbate was much less effective. Added Cu2+ ( > 0.3 mu M) also increased the rate of ascorbate-induced scission; EDTA was inhibitory. The rate of scission in the absence of added metals appeared to be attributable to the traces of Cu (2.8 mg.kg(-1)) present in the xyloglucan. Ascorbate-induced scission of xyloglucan was inhibited by radical scavengers; their effectiveness was proportional to their rate constants for reaction with hydroxyl radicals ((OH)-O-.). It is proposed that ascorbate non-enzymically reduces O-2 to H2O2, and Cu2+ to Cu+, and that H2O2 and Cu+ react to form (OH)-O-., which causes oxidative scission of polysaccharide chains. Evidence is reviewed to suggest that, in the wall of a living plant cell, Cu+ and H2O2 are formed by reactions involving ascorbate and its products, dehydroascorbate and oxalate. Systems may thus be in place to produce apoplastic (OH)-O-. radicals in vivo. Although (OH)-O-. radicals are often regarded as detrimental, they are so short-lived that they could act as site-specific oxidants targeted to play a useful role in loosening the cell wall, e.g. during cell expansion, fruit ripening and organ abscission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-515
Number of pages9
JournalBiochemical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 1998


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