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Food Chem. 2016 May 15;199:176-84. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.11.127. Epub 2015 Nov 28.

Enhancing phytochemical levels, enzymatic and antioxidant activity of spinach leaves by chitosan treatment and an insight into the metabolic pathway using DART-MS technique.

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Center for Biotechnology, Department of Biological Sciences, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani 333031, India. Electronic address:


Phytochemicals are health promoting compounds, synthesized by the plants to protect them against biotic or abiotic stress. The metabolic pathways leading to the synthesis of these phytochemicals are highly inducible; therefore methods could be developed to enhance their production by the exogenous application of chemical inducers/elicitors. In the present experiment, chitosan was used as an elicitor molecule to improve the phytochemical content of spinach plant. When applied at a concentration of 0.01 mg/ml as a foliar spray, chitosan was able to cause an increase in the enzymatic (peroxidase, catalase and phenylalanine ammonium lyase (PAL)) and non enzymatic (total phenolics, flavonoids and proteins) defensive metabolites, as well as, in the total antioxidant activity of the spinach leaves. A 1.7-fold increase in the total phenolics, a 2-fold increase in total flavonoid and a 1.6-fold increase in total protein were achieved with the treatment. A higher level of enzymatic activity was observed with a 4-fold increase in peroxidase and approximately 3-fold increases in catalase and phenylalanine ammonium lyase activity. Antioxidant activity showed a positive correlation between phenolic compounds and the enzymatic activity. Direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) was applied to generate the metabolite profile of control and treated leaves. DART analysis revealed the activation of phenylpropanoid pathway by chitosan molecule, targeting the synthesis of diverse classes of flavonoids and their glycosides. Important metabolites of stress response were also visible in the DART spectra, including proline and free sugars.


Chitosan; DART-MS; Elicitor; Flavonoids; Phenylpropanoid; Phytochemicals

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