Isoflavonoids are a characteristic family of natural products in legumes known to mediate a range of plant-biotic interactions. For example, in soybean (Glycine max: Fabaceae) multiple isoflavones are induced and accumulate in leaves following attack by Spodoptera litura (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) larvae. To quantitatively examine patterns of activated de novo biosynthesis, soybean (Var. Enrei) leaves were treated with a combination of plant defense elicitors present in S. litura gut content extracts and L-alpha-[C-13(9), N-15]phenylalanine as a traceable isoflavonoid precursor. Combined treatments promoted significant increases in C-13-labeled isoflavone aglycones (daidzein, formononetin, and genistein), C-13-labeled isoflavone 7-O-glucosides (daidzin, ononin, and genistin), and C-13-labeled isoflavone 7-O-(6aEuro(3)-O-malonyl-beta-glucosides) (malonyldaidzin, malonylononin, and malonylgenistin). In contrast levels of C-13-labeled flavones and flavonol (4',7-dihydroxyflavone, kaempferol, and apigenin) were not significantly altered. Curiously, application of fatty acid-amino acid conjugate (FAC) elicitors present in S. litura gut contents, namely N-linolenoyl-L-glutamine and N-linoleoyl-L-glutamine, both promoted the induced accumulation of isoflavone 7-O-glucosides and isoflavone 7-O-(6aEuro(3)-O-malonyl-beta-glucosides), but not isoflavone aglycones in the leaves. These results demonstrate that at least two separate reactions are involved in elicitor-induced soybean leaf responses to the S. litura gut contents: one is the de novo biosynthesis of isoflavone conjugates induced by FACs, and the other is the hydrolysis of the isoflavone conjugates to yield isoflavone aglycones. Gut content extracts alone displayed no hydrolytic activity. The quantitative analysis of isoflavone de novo biosynthesis, with respect to both aglycones and conjugates, affords a useful bioassay system for the discovery of additional plant defense elicitor(s) in S. litura gut contents that specifically promote hydrolysis of isoflavone conjugates.
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