Lycium barbarum L. fruits, referred to as functional food, have long been used in traditional and folk herbal medicine due to their therapeutic properties. The fruit microstructure was analysed using light, scanning and transmission electron microscopes. The distribution of bioactive compounds in drupe tissues was assessed with histochemical and fluorescence assays. The analysis of the microstructure has shown that the fruit is covered by a skin with an amorphous cuticle and a layer of amorphous epicuticular waxes on the surface. The skin is composed of a single-layered epidermis with thickened walls and one layer of hypodermis with slightly thickened periclinal walls. The pericarp cells contain different types of chromoplasts, which most often contained exhibited reticulotubules/fibrils of carotenoid pigments and phytoferritine deposits. The results of the histochemical assays demonstrated that the secondary metabolites with high phytotherapeutic importance were located in all layers of the pericarp and seeds and, specifically, in the drupe exocarp and endocarp. The phytochemicals were represented by polysaccharides (LBP), lipid compounds (carotenoids, essential oils, sesquiterpenes, steroids), polyphenols (tannins and flavonoids), and alkaloids. This study, which is the first report of the microstructure and localisation of bioactive compounds in wolfberries, is a valuable complement of phytochemical analyses and can be helpful for enhancement of the therapeutic effect of the fruit as well as preliminary assessment of the medicinal potential in the search for new pharmaceuticals. Detailed anatomical studies are crucial for exploration of determinants of fruit quality and useful for identification of diagnostic taxonomic traits.
Keywords: Alkaloids; Chromoplasts; Essential oils; Fluorescence and ultrastructure; Goji berries; Phenols.