Tocopherols and tocotrienols are vitamin E compounds, differing only in the saturation state of the isoprenoid side chain. Tocopherol biosynthesis, physiology and distribution have been studied in detail. Tocopherols have been found in many different plant species, and plant tissues. In contrast, comparatively little is known about the physiology and distribution of tocotrienols. These compounds appear to be considerably less widespread in the plant kingdom. In this study 80 different plant species were analysed for the presence of tocotrienols. Twenty-four species were found to contain significant amounts of tocotrienols. No taxonomic relation was apparent among the 16 dicotyledonous species that were found to contain tocotrienol. Monocotyledonous species (eight species) belonged either to the Poaceae (six species) or the Aracaceae (two species). A more detailed analysis of tocotrienol accumulation revealed the presence of tocotrienols in several non-photosynthetic tissues and organs, i.e. seeds, fruits and in latex, in concentrations up to 2000 ppm. No tocotrienols could be detected in mature photosynthetic tissues. However, we found the transient accumulation of low levels of tocotrienols in the young coleoptiles of plant species whose seeds contained tocotrienols. No measurable tocotrienol biosynthesis was apparent in coleoptiles, or in chloroplasts isolated from such coleoptiles. In line with these results, we found that tocotrienol accumulation in coleoptiles was not associated with chloroplasts. Based on our data, we conclude that tocotrienols may be transiently present in photosynthetically active tissues, however, it remains to be proven whether the tocotrienols are biosynthesised in such tissues, or imported from elsewhere in the plant.
A rice bran oil (RBO) diet can reduce plasma lipids; this was attributed to the specific components, gamma-oryzanol and gamma-tocotrienol, which individually were shown to be hypocholesterolemic; however, the mechanism of their effects on diabetic hyperlipidemia and the development of diabetes is not known. Rats with streptozotocin/nicotinamide-induced type 2 diabetes were divided into control, RO10, and RO15 groups, and fed cholesterol-free diets containing 0, 10, and 15 g RBO with 0, 352, and 528 g gamma-oryzanol and 0, 6.0 and 9.0 mg gamma-tocotrienol/100 g diet for 4 wk. Diabetic rats fed the RBO diet had greater insulin sensitivity (P = 0.02) than rats fed the control diet. Diabetic rats fed the RBO diet also had lower plasma triglyceride (P = 0.003), LDL cholesterol (P = 0.028), and hepatic triglyceride concentrations (P = 0.04), as well as greater fecal neutral sterol and bile acid excretion than those fed the control diet. After 4 wk, there was an approximately 100% (P < 0.001) increase in the abundance of hepatic cholesterol 7alpha-hydroxylase, an 89% (P < 0.001) increase in the hepatic LDL-receptor, and a 50% (P < 0.001) increase in hepatic 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase mRNA in rats fed the RBO diet compared with those fed the control diet. These findings support the conclusion that a rice bran oil-containing diet can significantly suppress hyperlipidemic and hyperinsulinemic responses in diabetic rats. The high contents of gamma-oryzanol and gamma-tocotrienol in RBO can lead to increased fecal neutral sterol and bile acid excretion, via upregulation of cholesterol synthesis and catabolism.