Perception of the plant hormone ethylene: known-knowns and known-unknowns

J Biol Inorg Chem. 2016 Sep;21(5-6):715-28. doi: 10.1007/s00775-016-1378-3. Epub 2016 Jul 25.


The gaseous phytohormone ethylene is implicated in virtually all phases of plant growth and development and thus has a major impact on crop production. This agronomic impact makes understanding ethylene signaling the Philosopher's Stone of the plant biotechnology world in applications including post-harvest transport of foodstuffs, consistency of foodstuff maturity pre-harvest, decorative flower freshness and longevity, and biomass production for biofuel applications. Ethylene is biosynthesized by plants in response to environmental factors and plant life-cycle events, and triggers a signaling cascade that modulates over 1000 genes. The key components in the perception of ethylene are a family of copper dependent receptors, the bioinorganic chemistry of which has been largely ignored by the chemical community. Since identification of these receptors two decades ago, there has been tremendous growth in knowledge in the biological community on the signal transduction pathways and mechanisms of ethylene signaling. In this review, we highlight these advances and key chemical voids in knowledge that are overdue for exploration, and which are required to ultimately regulate and control ethylene signaling.

Keywords: Copper-ethylene bonding; Ethylene adducts; Ethylene receptor; Ethylene signaling; Phytohormone.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ethylenes / chemistry
  • Ethylenes / metabolism*
  • Plant Growth Regulators / chemistry
  • Plant Growth Regulators / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Ethylenes
  • Plant Growth Regulators