Terpenes are compounds with a carbon skeleton based on isoprene (C5) as the basic body and accordingly have methyl side groups. Monoterpenes are the simplest terpenes and consist of two isoprene units. There are acyclic and cyclic monoterpenes. All monoterpenes are more or less pleasant smelling aroma compounds (e.g. citronellol [citrus aroma], geraniol [geranium aroma], camphor and many more). The typical smell of many plants is based on the presence of (mono)terpenes. Other isoprene-based compounds are carotenoids, steroids, but also rubber (polyisoprene). Citronellol (3,7-dimethyl-6-octen-1-ol) and citronellic acid (3,7-dimethyl-2,6-octdienoic acid) are added to many foods as flavourings. Monoterpenes are a component of many perfumes. Interestingly, citronellol not only smells pleasant, it also has a useful effect as an insect repellent and is marketed, for example, in the form of organic repellents and citronella candles.
A few years ago it was discovered that monoterpenes such as geraniol have important effects on mammalian cells and can, for example, trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in human cell lines (including cancer cell lines). The signalling pathways and biochemical transformations of terpenes that play a role in this process are largely unknown. Apparently, the effect of monoterpenes on mammalian metabolism has been underestimated so far. One possible reason for this could be the unknown metabolic pathways by which monoterpenes are converted. The Jendrossek group is therefore investigating the metabolism of monoterpenes in bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas citronellolis). An important component of the biochemical pathway is the so-called Atu and Liu pathway (acyclic terpene utilisation, Atu; leucine and isovalerate utilisation, Liu).