Metabolic analysis of the melatonin biosynthesis pathway using chemical labeling coupled with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry

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Characterization of the melatonin (MLT) biosynthesis pathway in plants is still limited. Additionally, a metabolomic analysis of MLT biosynthesis in plants is still a challenge due to analyte structural and chemical diversity, low analyte abundances, and plant matrix complexities. Herein, a sensitive liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) method enabling the simultaneous determination of seven plant MLT biosynthetic metabolites was developed. In the proposed strategy, the targeted metabolites, which included tryptophan (Trp), tryptamine (TAM), 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP), serotonin (5HT), N-acetylserotonin (NAS), 5-methoxytryptamine (5MT), and MLT, were purified from plant extracts using a one-step dispersive solid-phase extraction (DSPE). The samples were then chemically labeled with dansyl chloride (DNS-Cl), followed by analysis using LC-MS. The limit of detection (LOD) values ranged from 0.03 to 1.36 pg/mL and presented a 22- to 469-fold decrease when compared to the unlabeled metabolites. Due to the high sensitivity of the proposed method, the consumption of plant materials was reduced to 10 mg FW. Ultimately, the established method was utilized to examine the distributions of MLT and its intermediates in rice shoots and roots with or without cadmium (Cd) stress. The results suggested that under normal condition, MLT may also be generated via a Trp/TAM/5HT/5MT/MLT path (Pathway II) in addition to the previously reported Trp/TAM/5HT/NAS/MLT path (Pathway I), although Pathway I was shown to be dominant. During Cd stress, MLT was also shown to be produced through these two pathways, with Pathway II shown to be dominant in rice shoots and roots.

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