Tipping the Scales - Specifier Proteins in Glucosinolate Hydrolysis



Glucosinolates are a group of secondary plant metabolites found in the Brassicales order that are beneficial components of our diet, determine the flavor of a number of vegetables and spices and have been implicated in pest management strategies. These properties, most of the biological activities and the pungent odor and taste associated with glucosinolate-containing plants are due to the products formed from glucosinolates by their hydrolytic enzymes, myrosinases, upon tissue disruption. Specifier proteins impact the outcome of glucosinolate hydrolysis without having hydrolytic activity on glucosinolates themselves. In the presence of specifier proteins, glucosinolate hydrolysis results in nitriles, epithionitriles and organic thiocyanates whose biological functions are currently unknown. In contrast, isothiocyanates formed in the absence of specifier proteins have been demonstrated to possess a variety of biological activities and are thought to protect plants from herbivore and pathogen attack. This review discusses the current knowledge on plant and insect specifier proteins with special emphasis on their biochemical properties and possible mechanisms of action.