Current opinion in plant biology, 2016
Plants have the ability to sense volatile organic compounds (VOCs) so as to efficiently adapt to their environment. The mechanisms underlying such plant ‘olfactory’ systems are largely unknown. Here I would like to propose that the metabolism of VOCs in plant tissues is one of the mechanisms by which plants sense VOCs. During the gas-exchange that is essential for photosynthesis, VOCs in the atmosphere are taken into the intercellular spaces of leaves. Each VOC is partitioned between the gas phase (intercellular space) and liquid phase (cell wall) at a certain ratio determined by Henry’s law. The VOCs in the cell wall diffuse through the plasma membrane to the cytosol depending on their oil/water partition coefficients. Plants detoxify some VOCs, especially those that are oxidized, through glycosylation, glutathionylation, and reduction. These metabolic processes lower the concentration of VOCs in the cytosol, which facilitates further cytosolic uptake. As a result, vigorous metabolism of VOCs in the cytosol can lead to a substantial accumulation of VOC metabolites and the depletion of glutathione or NADPH. One such metabolite (a VOC glycoside) is known to mount a direct defense against herbivores, whilst deprivation of glutathione and NADPH can fortify plants with responses similar to the oxidative stress response.
Matsui K. A portion of plant airborne communication is endorsed by uptake and metabolism of volatile organic compounds. Curr Opin Plant Biol. 2016;32:24-30.