Chlorophyll breakdown is an important catabolic process of leaf senescence and fruit ripening. Structure elucidation of colorless linear tetrapyrroles as (final) breakdown products of chlorophyll was crucial for the recent delineation of a chlorophyll breakdown pathway which is highly conserved in land plants. Pheophorbide a oxygenase is the key enzyme responsible for opening of the chlorin macrocycle of pheophorbide a characteristic to all further breakdown products. Degradation of chlorophyll was rationalized by the need of a senescing cell to detoxify the potentially phototoxic pigment, yet recent investigations in leaves and fruits indicate that chlorophyll catabolites could have physiological roles. This review updates structural information of chlorophyll catabolites and the biochemical reactions involved in their formation, and discusses the significance of chlorophyll breakdown. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Regulation of Electron Transport in Chloroplasts.
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