Leaf metabolic signatures induced by real and simulated herbivory in black mustard (Brassica nigra)

Metabolomics. 2019 Sep 28;15(10):130. doi: 10.1007/s11306-019-1592-4.


Introduction: The oxylipin methyl jasmonate (MeJA) is a plant hormone active in response signalling and defence against herbivores. Although MeJA is applied experimentally to mimic herbivory and induce plant defences, its downstream effects on the plant metabolome are largely uncharacterized, especially in the context of primary growth and tissue-specificity of the response.

Objectives: We investigated the effects of MeJA-simulated and real caterpillar herbivory on the foliar metabolome of the wild plant Brassica nigra and monitored the herbivore-induced responses in relation to leaf ontogeny.

Methods: As single or multiple herbivory treatments, MeJA- and mock-sprayed plants were consecutively exposed to caterpillars or left untreated. Gas chromatography (GC) and liquid chromatography (LC) time-of-flight mass-spectrometry (TOF-MS) were combined to analyse foliar compounds, including central primary and specialized defensive plant metabolites.

Results: Plant responses were stronger in young leaves, which simultaneously induced higher chlorophyll levels. Both MeJA and caterpillar herbivory induced similar, but not identical, accumulation of tricarboxylic acids (TCAs), glucosinolates (GSLs) and phenylpropanoids (PPs), but only caterpillar feeding led to depletion of amino acids. MeJA followed by caterpillars caused higher induction of defence compounds, including a three-fold increase in the major defence compound allyl-GSL (sinigrin). When feeding on MeJA-treated plants, caterpillars gained less weight indicative of the reduced host-plant quality and enhanced resistance.

Conclusions: The metabolomics approach showed that plant responses induced by herbivory extend beyond the regulation of defence metabolism and are tightly modulated throughout leaf development. This leads to a new understanding of the plant metabolic potential that can be exploited for future plant protection strategies.

Keywords: Brassica nigra; Glucosinolates; Growth-defence allocation; Herbivore-induced responses; Leaf ontogeny; Metabolomics; Methyl jasmonate; Priming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / pharmacology
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Cyclopentanes / pharmacology
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Metabolomics*
  • Mustard Plant / drug effects
  • Mustard Plant / metabolism*
  • Oxylipins / pharmacology
  • Plant Leaves / drug effects
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism*


  • Acetates
  • Cyclopentanes
  • Oxylipins
  • methyl jasmonate