Distribution and evolutionary trends of photoprotective isoprenoids (xanthophylls and tocopherols) within the plant kingdom

Physiol Plant. 2009 Apr;135(4):379-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3054.2008.01196.x. Epub 2009 Feb 5.


The earliest land photosynthesis would have increased the risk of photo-oxidations and the demand of anti-oxidative protection. In this work, we aimed to determine the evolutionary trends in photoprotection across a wide representation of the plant kingdom and to verify whether the non-ubiquitous lutein-epoxide (Lx) cycle is a polyphyletic or an ancient character. Carotenoids and alpha-tocopherol (alpha-toc) were analysed by HPLC in 266 species. Phylogenetic analyses of the presence of photoprotective compounds and zeaxanthin-epoxidase (ZE) sequences were performed. Violaxanthin-cycle pigments (VAZ) and alpha-toc were taxonomically ubiquitous. Ancient groups showed higher contents of VAZ than vascular plants, while alpha-toc showed the opposite pattern. Lutein-epoxide was present in 45% of the species. It showed a remarkable variation across groups but with a clear increasing trend from algae to basal angiosperms. Lutein-epoxide was also related to woody trait and leaf longevity. No correlation between the presence of Lx and recurrent mutations in ZE sequences, including the duplications, was found. Thus, there is an evolutionary trend to increase the content of alpha-toc and to decrease the total amount of VAZ pigments. Absence of Lx in algae discards an ancestral origin. Present results are also inconsistent with a polyphyletic origin of Lx in angiosperms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Lutein / analogs & derivatives
  • Lutein / metabolism
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Xanthophylls / metabolism
  • alpha-Tocopherol / metabolism*


  • Xanthophylls
  • lutein-5,6-epoxide
  • violaxanthin
  • Oxidoreductases
  • zeaxanthin epoxidase
  • alpha-Tocopherol
  • Lutein