Damage-induced accumulation of phytoecdysteroids in spinach: A rapid root response involving the octadecanoic acid pathway

Eric A. Schmelz, Robert J. Grebenok, David W. Galbraith, William S. Bowers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Some plant defenses are known to be rapidly induced following attack by phytophagous insects. Plant-produced insect molting hormones, trained phytoecdysteroids, are believed to aid plant resistance; however, their dynamics are poorly understood. Using spinach (Spinacia oleracea) as a model system, we examined the inducibility of phytoecdysteroids, primarily 20-hydroxyecdysone (20E), in an effort to characterize potential interactions with herbivorous insects. Rapid phytochemical induction was investigated using damage treatments and applications of defense-related plant-signal analogs, specifically methyl jasmonate (MJ) and methyl salicylate (MSA). Within two days, mechanically damaged roots exhibited two to three fold increases in phytoecdysteroid concentrations. Four days after root damage, small increases in shoot levels were also detectable. Unlike roots, foliar 20E concentrations were unaltered over a range of shoot treatments including insect herbivory (Spodoptera exigua), mechanical damage, and MJ applications. Additions of MJ (12.5-50 μg/liter) to the root systems of hydroponically grown plants stimulated accumulations of root phytoecdysteroids in a dose-dependent manner, similar in magnitude to the response induced by root damage. Under identical conditions, MSA did not affect the accumulation of 20E when added to the hydroponic solutions of undamaged plants. Moreover, MSA inhibited the induction of 20E in wounded roots, but did not interfere with the action of applied MJ. In contrast to mechanical damage, roots did not induce 20E levels when challenged with two different fungal pathogens (Pythium aphanidermatum and Phytophthora capsici). We propose that wound- induced accumulations of 20E are generated in the roots, signaled via endogenous jasmonates, and may confer enhanced resistance against subterranean herbivorous insects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)339-360
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


  • 20-hydroxyecdysone
  • Induce defence
  • Methyl Jasmonate
  • Methyl salicylate
  • Phytoecdysteroid
  • Phytophthora capsici
  • Pythium aphanidermatum
  • Roots
  • Spinach
  • Spinacia oleracea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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