Tissue specific diurnal rhythms of metabolites and their regulation during herbivore attack in a native tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata

PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e26214. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026214. Epub 2011 Oct 18.


Ecological performance is all about timing and the endogenous clock that allows the entrainment of rhythms and anticipation of fitness-determining events is being rapidly characterized. How plants anticipate daily abiotic stresses, such as cold in early mornings and drought at noon, as well as biotic stresses, such as the timing of pathogen infections, is being explored, but little is known about the clock's role in regulating responses to insect herbivores and mutualists, whose behaviors are known to be strongly diurnally regulated and whose attack is known to reconfigure plant metabolomes. We developed a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry procedure and analyzed its output with model-based peak picking algorithms to identify metabolites with diurnal accumulation patterns in sink/source leaves and roots in an unbiased manner. The response of metabolites with strong diurnal patterns to simulated attack from the specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta larvae was analyzed and annotated with in-house and public databases. Roots and leaves had largely different rhythms and only 10 ions of 182 oscillating ions in leaves and 179 oscillating ions in roots were rhythmic in both tissues: root metabolites mainly peaked at dusk or night, while leaf metabolites peaked during the day. Many oscillating metabolites showed tissue-specific regulation by simulated herbivory of which systemic responses in unattacked tissues were particularly pronounced. Diurnal and herbivory-elicited accumulation patterns of disaccharide, phenylalanine, tyrosine, lyciumoside I, coumaroyl tyramine, 12-oxophytodienoic acid and jasmonic acid and those of their related biosynthetic transcripts were examined in detail. We conclude that oscillating metabolites of N. attenuata accumulate in a highly tissue-specific manner and the patterns reveal pronounced diurnal rhythms in the generalized and specialized metabolism that mediates the plant's responses to herbivores and mutualists. We propose that diurnal regulation will prove to an important element in orchestrating a plant's responses to herbivore attack.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm* / genetics
  • Cyclopentanes / metabolism
  • Disaccharides / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / metabolism
  • Genes, Plant / genetics
  • Glycosides / metabolism
  • Herbivory*
  • Larva / metabolism
  • Manduca* / metabolism
  • Mechanical Phenomena
  • Organ Specificity
  • Oxylipins / metabolism
  • Phenylalanine / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / drug effects
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / physiology
  • Plant Roots / drug effects
  • Plant Roots / genetics
  • Plant Roots / metabolism
  • Plant Roots / physiology
  • Polyamines / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Tobacco / drug effects
  • Tobacco / genetics*
  • Tobacco / metabolism
  • Tobacco / physiology*
  • Tyrosine / metabolism


  • Cyclopentanes
  • Disaccharides
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Glycosides
  • Oxylipins
  • Polyamines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Tyrosine
  • Phenylalanine
  • 12-oxophytodienoic acid
  • jasmonic acid

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE30287