Phytochemistry Reviews

, 8:101

First online:

Indole glucosinolate breakdown and its biological effects

  • Niels AgerbirkAffiliated withFaculty of Life Science, University of Copenhagen
  • , Martin De VosAffiliated withBoyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research
  • , Jae Hak KimAffiliated withBoyce Thompson Institute for Plant ResearchMonsanto Company
  • , Georg JanderAffiliated withBoyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research Email author 

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Most species in the Brassicaceae produce one or more indole glucosinolates. In addition to the parent indol-3-ylmethylglucosinolate (IMG), other commonly encountered indole glucosinolates are 1-methoxyIMG, 4-hydroxyIMG, and 4-methoxyIMG. Upon tissue disruption, enzymatic hydrolysis of IMG produces an unstable aglucone, which reacts rapidly to form indole-3-acetonitrile and indol-3-ylmethyl isothiocyanate. The isothiocyanate, in turn, can react with water, ascorbate, glutathione, amino acids, and other plant metabolites to produce a variety of physiologically active indole compounds. Myrosinase-initiated breakdown of the substituted indole glucosinolates proceeds in a similar manner to that of IMG. Induction of indole glucosinolate production in response to biotic stress, experiments with mutant plants, and artificial diet assays suggest a significant role for indole glucosinolates in plant defense. However, some crucifer-feeding specialist herbivores recognize indole glucosinolates and their breakdown products as oviposition and/or feeding stimulants. In mammalian diets, IMG can have both beneficial and deleterious effects. Most IMG breakdown products induce the synthesis of phase 1 detoxifying enzymes, which may in some cases prevent carcinogenesis, but in other cases promote carcinogenesis. Recent advances in indole glucosinolate research have been fueled by their occurrence in the well-studied model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Knowledge gained from genetic and biochemical experiments with A. thaliana can be applied to gain new insight into the ecological and nutritional properties of indole glucosinolates in other plant species.


Ascorbigen Brassicaceae Cancer Indole-3-acetonitrile Indole-3-carbinol Indol-3-ylmethyl isothiocyanate Insect Myrosinase