Chemical imaging reveals diverse functions of tricarboxylic acid metabolites in root growth and development

Nat Commun. 2023 May 4;14(1):2567. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-38150-z.


Understanding how plants grow is critical for agriculture and fundamental for illuminating principles of multicellular development. Here, we apply desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging (DESI-MSI) to the chemical mapping of the developing maize root. This technique reveals a range of small molecule distribution patterns across the gradient of stem cell differentiation in the root. To understand the developmental logic of these patterns, we examine tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle metabolites. In both Arabidopsis and maize, we find evidence that elements of the TCA cycle are enriched in developmentally opposing regions. We find that these metabolites, particularly succinate, aconitate, citrate, and α-ketoglutarate, control root development in diverse and distinct ways. Critically, the developmental effects of certain TCA metabolites on stem cell behavior do not correlate with changes in ATP production. These results present insights into development and suggest practical means for controlling plant growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Citric Acid Cycle
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Growth and Development
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization* / methods
  • Tricarboxylic Acids*


  • Tricarboxylic Acids