N-Acylethanolamines: Lipid Metabolites with Functions in Plant Growth and Development

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Twenty years ago, N‐acylethanolamines (NAEs) were considered by many lipid chemists to be biological ‘artifacts’ of tissue damage, and were, at best, thought to be minor lipohilic constituents of various organisms. However, that changed dramatically in 1993, when anandamide, an NAE of arachidonic acid (N‐arachidonylethanolamine), was shown to bind to the human cannabinoid receptor (CB1) and activate intracellular signal cascades in mammalian neurons. Now NAEs of various types have been identified in diverse multicellular organisms, in which they display profound biological effects. Although targets of NAEs are still being uncovered, and probably vary among eukaryotic species, there appears to be remarkable conservation of the machinery that metabolizes these bioactive fatty acid conjugates of ethanolamine. This review focuses on the metabolism and functions of NAEs in higher plants, with specific reference to the formation, hydrolysis and oxidation of these potent lipid mediators. The discussion centers mostly on early seedling growth and development, for which NAE metabolism has received the most attention, but also considers other areas of plant development in which NAE metabolism has been implicated. Where appropriate, we indicate cross‐kingdom conservation in NAE metabolic pathways and metabolites, and suggest areas where opportunities for further investigation appear most pressing.