Acta Physiologiae Plantarum

, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 1607–1628 | Cite as

Tocopherol biosynthesis: chemistry, regulation and effects of environmental factors



Tocopherols are lipophilic antioxidants and together with tocotrienols belong to the vitamin-E family. The four forms of tocopherols (α-, β-, γ- and δ-tocopherols) consist of a polar chromanol ring and lipophilic prenyl chain with differences in the position and number of methyl groups. The biosynthesis of tocopherols takes place mainly in plastids of higher plants from precursors derived from two metabolic pathways: homogentisic acid, an intermediate of degradation of aromatic amino acids, and phytyldiphosphate, which arises from methylerythritol phosphate pathway. The regulation of tocopherol biosynthesis in photosynthetic organisms occurs, at least partially, at the level of key enzymes as such including p-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (HPPD, EC, homogentisate phytyltransferase (HPT, EC 2.5.1.-), tocopherol cyclase (TC, EC 5.4.99.-), and two methyltransferases. Tocopherol biosynthesis changes during plant development and in response toward different stresses induced by high-intensity light, drought, high salinity, heavy metals, and chilling. It is supposed that scavenging of lipid peroxy radicals and quenching of singlet oxygen are the main functions of tocopherols in photosynthetic organisms. The antioxidant action of tocopherols is related to the formation of tocopherol quinone and its following recycling or degradation. However, until now, the mechanisms of tocopherol degradation in plants have not been established in detail. This review focuses on mechanisms of tocopherols biosynthesis and its regulation in photosynthetic organisms. In addition, available information on tocopherol degradation is summarized.


Tocopherols Methylerythritol phosphate pathway Shikimate pathway Stress Biosynthesis Degradation 





Geranylgeranyl diphosphate


Homogentisic acid




Homogentisate phytyltransferase


p-Hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase




2-Methyl-6-phytyl-1,4-benzoquinone methyltransferase




Polyunsaturated fatty acid


Reactive oxygen species


Tocopherol cyclase


γ-Tocopherol methyltransferase


Tocopherol quinone


Tocopherol quinol



The authors would like to thank Dr. Jon Falk (Carlsberg Research Center, Denmark) and Dr. Olha Kubrak (Precarpathian National University, Ukraine) for highly professional analysis of the manuscript and giving valuable suggestions resulted in better presentation of the material.


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Copyright information

© Franciszek Górski Institute of Plant Physiology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biochemistry and BiotechnologyPrecarpathian National University Named After Vassyl StefanykIvano-FrankivskUkraine

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