Glycine Protects Against Strong Protein-Denaturing Activity of Oleuropein, a Phenolic Compound in Privet Leaves

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In previous studies, we reported the existence of a high concentration of free glycine in the digestive juice of several Lepidoptera larvae, particularly in the digestive juice of species that feed on the privet tree, Ligustrum oblusifolium. The water extract of privet leaves showed very strong protein-denaturing activity and lysine-decreasing activity, which closely resembled activity of oxidized polyphenolics. Addition of 1% glycine to the extract could completely inhibit these activities. Free glycine may be secreted into the digestive juice by larvae as an adaptive mechanism for chemical defense against its host plants. The protein-denaturing compound in privet leaves is present in the cytosol or in the vacuoles of the leaf cells. The compound does not show protein-denaturing activity without oxidation, but when mixed with intact organelles under low osmotic conditions to give an osmotic shock, a very high protein-denaturing activity is produced. Our results suggest that the privet tree is endowed with a defense mechanism in which a stable compound in the cytosol or in the vacuoles is activated into a chemically active denaturant by an enzyme present in the organelles (including chloroplasts) after the leaves are eaten by insects and the organelles are broken by osmotic shock or by digestive mechanisms. Based upon HPLC and NMR data, we conclude that the denaturing compound is oleuropein, an o-dihydroxyphenolic compound. This compound makes up 3% of the wet weight of privet leaves. The protein-denaturing activity of purified oleuropein activated by the leaf enzyme is high enough to account for all the denaturing activity in a water extract of privet leaves. The denaturing reaction is completely inhibited by free glycine. Our results suggest that the protein-denaturing activity and lysine-decreasing activity of privet leaves are caused by oxidized polyphenolics, and that some insects secrete free glycine to counter the denaturing activity of oxidized phenolics. The chemical mechanism of counteraction by glycine is also considered. Free glycine in the midgut of insects probably protects proteins from denaturation by competing with proteins for oxidized phenolics.

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