Agarwood is the fragrant resinous material mainly formed from species of Aquilaria. 2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones, especially the highly oxidized 5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones, are the main representative compounds from agarwood. It is important to determine whether agarwood in trade is from cultivated trees or natural trees in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). We characterized the 2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones in agarwood by ultra-performance liquid chromatography coupled with electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (UPLC-ESI-QTOF-MS) and differentiated wild from cultivated agarwood by metabolomic analysis. A total of 141 chromones including 50 potentially new compounds were evaluated as belonging to four structural classes (unoxidized 2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones, 5,6,7,8-tetrahydro-2-(2-phenylethyl)-chromones, bi-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones, and tri-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromones). The metabolic difference between wild and cultivated agarwood was analyzed by component analysis (PCA) and orthogonal partial least squares discriminant analysis (OPLS-DA). Fourteen markers of metabolisms in wild and cultivated agarwood were constructed (e.g., 6,7-dimethoxy-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromone, 6,8-dihydroxy-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromone, 6-methoxy-2-(2-phenylethyl)chromone, etc.). These results indicated that UPLC-ESI-QTOF-MS-based metabonomics analysis in agarwood may be useful for distinguishing wild agarwood from cultivated agarwood.
Keywords: Aquilaria; CITES; LC-MS; biomarker; chromone; conservation; metabonomics.