The provenance, half-life and biological activity of malondialdehyde (MDA) were investigated in Arabidopsis thaliana. We provide genetic confirmation of the hypothesis that MDA originates from fatty acids containing more than two methylene-linked double bonds, showing that tri-unsaturated fatty acids are the in vivo source of up to 75% of MDA. The abundance of the combined pool of free and reversibly bound MDA did not change dramatically in stress, although a significant increase in the free MDA pool under oxidative conditions was observed. The half-life of infiltrated MDA indicated rapid metabolic turnover/sequestration. Exposure of plants to low levels of MDA using a recently developed protocol powerfully upregulated many genes on a cDNA microarray with a bias towards those implicated in abiotic/environmental stress (e.g. ROF1 and XERO2). Remarkably, and in contrast to the activities of other reactive electrophile species (i.e. small vinyl ketones), none of the pathogenesis-related (PR) genes tested responded to MDA. The use of structural mimics of MDA isomers suggested that the propensity of the molecule to act as a cross-linking/modifying reagent might contribute to the activation of gene expression. Changes in the concentration/localisation of unbound MDA in vivo could strongly affect stress-related transcription.
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