Pseudokeronopsis erythrina produces three new secondary metabolites, erythrolactones A2, B2 and C2, and their respective sulfate esters (A1, B1, C1), the structures of which have been recently elucidated on the basis of NMR spectroscopic data coupled to high resolution mass measurements (HR-MALDI-TOF). An analysis of the discharge of the protozoan pigment granules revealed that the non-sulfonated erythrolactones are exclusively stored in these cortical organelles, which are commonly used by a number of ciliates as chemical weapons in offense/defense interactions with prey and predators. We evaluated the toxic activity of pigment granule discharge on a panel of free-living ciliates and micro-invertebrates, and the activity of each single purified erythrolactone on three ciliate species. We also observed predator—prey interactions of P. erythrina with unicellular and multicellular predators. Experimental results confirm that only P. erythrina cells with discharged pigment granules were preferentially or exclusively hunted and eaten by at least some of its predators, whereas almost all intact (fully pigmented) cells remained alive. Our results indicate that erythrolactones are very effective as a chemical defense in P. erythrina.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1