Plasmalogens are a specific glycerophospholipid class containing a vinyl ether moiety at the sn-1-position of the glycerol backbone. The high susceptibility of this vinyl ether bond to oxidative damage and traces of acids may indicate the possible function of plasmalogens in biological systems: The regarded cell-internal antioxidative defense of membranes by protecting other phospholipids or lipoprotein particles against oxidative stress is controversial. Reactive oxygen species preferably affect the vinyl ether function as well as the olefinic acyl residues at the sn-2-position of plasmalogens.
This review is dedicated to the role of plasmalogens in different cells and tissues as spermatozoal cells or brain tissue.
The first chapter of this review will discuss the molecular structure and chemistry of plasmalogen molecules, their distributions in cells and tissues and the species-specificity.
In the second chapter their functions as lipid mediators will be considered and the controversial antioxidative function will be discussed. The supposed function of plasmalogens as “scavengers” for reactive oxygen species (ROS) in biological membranes is challenged by the finding that plasmalogen oxidation products as α-hydroxyaldehydes and plasmalogen epoxides accumulate in all chronic diseases as atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction, upon aging as well as in alzheimers disease and other neuropathological conditions. All these conditions, characterized by increased membrane instability and oxidative damage, will be reviewed in chapter three. Chronically proceeding processes can be described by permanently invading polymorphonuclear neutrophils into inflammatory loci. The degranulation of the azurophilic granula in polymorphonuclear leukocytes causes the release of highly reactive substances, for instance the myeloperoxidase-generated hypochlorous acid (HOCl) acting as effective oxidant. Therefore, special attention will be paid to neutrophil-derived HOCl.
The last chapter deals with currently used methods of detecting plasmalogens and their degradation products. Although chromatographic methods will be also discussed, special attention will be given to 31P NMR spectroscopy and soft ionization techniques of mass spectrometry as electrospray ionization or matrix-assisted laser desorption and ionization time-offlight mass spectrometry.