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Phytochemistry. 2003 Feb;62(3):527-36.

Allometric analysis of the induced flavonols on the leaf surface of wild tobacco (Nicotiana attenuata).

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Max-Planck Institut für Chemische Okologie, Molecular Ecology, Winzerlaer Str. 10, D-07745 Jena, Germany.


Trichomes excrete secondary metabolites that may alter the chemical composition of the leaf surface, reducing damage caused by herbivores, pathogens and abiotic stresses. We examined the surface exudates produced by Nicotiana attenuata Torr. Ex Wats., a plant known to contain and secrete a number of secondary metabolites that are toxic or a deterrent to herbivorous insects. Extractions specific to the leaf surface, the trichomes, and the laminar components demonstrated the localization of particular compounds. Diterpene glycosides occurred exclusively in leaf mesophyll, whereas nicotine was found in both the trichomes and mesophyll. Neither rutin nor nicotine was found on the leaf surface. Quercetin and 7 methylated derivatives were found in the glandular trichomes and appeared to be excreted onto the leaf surface. We examined the elicitation of these flavonols on the leaf surface with a surface-area allometric analysis, which measures changes in metabolites independent of the effects of leaf expansion. The flavonols responded differently to wounding, methyl jasmonate (MeJA), herbivore attack and UV-C radiation, and the response patterns corresponded to their compound-specific allometries. Finding greater amounts of quercetin on younger leaves and reduced amounts after herbivore feeding and MeJA treatment, we hypothesized that quercetin may function as an attractant, helping the insects locate a preferred feeding site. Consistent with this hypothesis, mirids (Tupiocoris notatus) were found more often on mature leaves sprayed with quercetin at a concentration typical of young leaves than on unsupplemented mature leaves. The composition of metabolites on the leaf surface of N. attenuata changes throughout leaf development and in response to herbivore attack or environmental stress, and these changes are mediated in part by responses of the glandular trichomes.

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