Nature of Cytokinins
Cytokinins are compounds with a structure resembling adenine which promote cell division and have other similar functions to kinetin. Kinetin was the first cytokinin discovered and so named because of the compounds ability to promote cytokinesis (cell division). Though it is a natural compound, It is not made in plants, and is therefore usually considered a "synthetic" cytokinin (meaning that the hormone is synthesized somewhere other than in a plant). The most common form of naturally occurring cytokinin in plants today is called zeatin which was isolated from corn (Zea mays).

Cytokinins have been found in almost all higher plants as well as mosses, fungi, bacteria, and also in tRNA of many prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Today there are more than 200 natural and synthetic cytokinins combined. Cytokinin concentrations are highest in meristematic regions and areas of continuous growth potential such as roots, young leaves, developing fruits, and seeds (Arteca, 1996; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).

History of Cytokinins
In 1913, Gottlieb Haberlandt discovered that a compound found in phloem had the ability to stimulate cell division (Haberlandt, 1913). In 1941, Johannes van Overbeek discovered that the milky endosperm from coconut also had this ability. He also showed that various other plant species had compounds which stimulated cell division (van Overbeek, 1941). In 1954, Jablonski and Skoog extended the work of Haberlandt showing that vascular tissues contained compounds which promote cell division (Jablonski and Skoog, 1954). The first cytokinin was isolated from herring sperm in 1955 by Miller and his associates (Miller et al., 1955). This compound was named kinetin because of its ability to promote cytokinesis. Hall and deRopp reported that kinetin could be formed from DNA degradation products in 1955 (Hall and deRopp, 1955). The first naturally occurring cytokinin was isolated from corn in 1961 by Miller (Miller, 1961). It was later called zeatin. Almost simultaneous with Miller Letham published a report on zeatin as a factor inducing cell division and later described its chemical properties (Letham, 1963). It is Miller and Letham that are credited with the simultaneous discovery of zeatin. Since that time, many more naturally occurring cytokinins have been isolated and the compound is ubiquitous to all plant species in one form or another (Arteca, 1996; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).

Biosynthesis and Metabolism of Cytokinins
Cytokinin is generally found in higher concentrations in meristematic regions and growing tissues. They are believed to be synthesized in the roots and translocated via the xylem to shoots. Cytokinin biosynthesis happens through the biochemical modification of adenine. The process by which they are synthesized is as follows (McGaw, 1995; Salisbury and Ross, 1992): A product of the mevalonate pathway called isopentyl pyrophosphate is isomerized. This isomer can then react with adenosine monophosphate with the aid of an enzyme called isopentenyl AMP synthase. The result is isopentenyl adenosine-5'-phosphate (isopentenyl AMP). This product can then be converted to isopentenyl adenosine by removal of the phosphate by a phosphatase and further converted to isopentenyl adenine by removal of the ribose group. Isopentenyl adenine can be converted to the three major forms of naturally occurring cytokinins. Other pathways or slight alterations of this one probably lead to the other forms. Degradation of cytokinins occurs largely due to the enzyme cytokinin oxidase. This enzyme removes the side chain and releases adenine. Derivitives can also be made but the pathways are more complex and poorly understood.

Cytokinin Functions
A list of some of the known physiological effects caused by cytokinins are listed below. The response will vary depending on the type of cytokinin and plant species (Davies, 1995; Mauseth, 1991; Raven, 1992; Salisbury and Ross, 1992).

  • Stimulates cell division.
  • Stimulates morphogenesis (shoot initiation/bud formation) in tissue culture.
  • Stimulates the growth of lateral buds-release of apical dominance.
  • Stimulates leaf expansion resulting from cell enlargement.
  • May enhance stomatal opening in some species.
  • Promotes the conversion of etioplasts into chloroplasts via stimulation of chlorophyll synthesis.


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