Plant Cell Reports

, Volume 37, Issue 11, pp 1471–1484 | Cite as

Chitosan oligosaccharides affect xanthone and VOC biosynthesis in Hypericum perforatum root cultures and enhance the antifungal activity of root extracts

  • Camilla Badiali
  • Giulia De Angelis
  • Giovanna Simonetti
  • Elisa Brasili
  • Eric de Castro Tobaruela
  • Eduardo Purgatto
  • Heng Yin
  • Alessio VallettaEmail author
  • Gabriella Pasqua
Original Article


Key message

Water-soluble chitosan oligosaccharides (COS) affect xanthone and volatile organic compound content, as well as antifungal activity against human pathogenic fungi of extracts obtained from Hypericum perforatum root cultures.


Several studies have demonstrated the elicitor power of chitosan on xanthone biosynthesis in root cultures of H. perforatum. One of the major limitations to the use of chitosan, both for basic and applied research, is the need to use acidified water for solubilization. To overcome this problem, the elicitor effect of water-soluble COS on the biosynthesis of both xanthones and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was evaluated in the present study. The analysis of xanthones and VOCs was performed by HPLC and GC–MS headspace analysis. The obtained results showed that COS are very effective in enhancing xanthone biosynthesis. With 400 mg L−1 COS, a xanthone content of about 30 mg g−1 DW was obtained. The antifungal activity of extracts obtained with 400 mg L−1 COS was the highest, with MIC50 of 32 µg mL−1 against Candida albicans and 32–64 µg mL−1 against dermatophytes, depending on the microorganism. Histochemical investigations suggested the accumulation of isoprenoids in the secretory ducts of H. perforatum roots. The presence of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes was confirmed by the headspace analysis. Other volatile hydrocarbons have been identified. The biosynthesis of most VOCs showed significant changes in response to COS, suggesting their involvement in plant–fungus interactions.


Hypericum perforatum Root cultures Chitooligosaccharides Xanthones Volatile organic compounds 



This work was supported by Sapienza Università di Roma (Ricerche Universitarie 2015, Grant number C26A15MLP9; Avvio alla Ricerca 2017, Grant number AR11715C81A4ABDF).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Supplementary material

299_2018_2317_MOESM1_ESM.docx (365 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 365 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Camilla Badiali
    • 1
  • Giulia De Angelis
    • 1
  • Giovanna Simonetti
    • 2
  • Elisa Brasili
    • 1
    • 3
  • Eric de Castro Tobaruela
    • 3
  • Eduardo Purgatto
    • 3
  • Heng Yin
    • 4
  • Alessio Valletta
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gabriella Pasqua
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental BiologySapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of Public Health and Infectious DiseasesSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly
  3. 3.Department of Food Sciences and Experimental Nutrition/FORC-Food Research CenterUniversity of São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  4. 4.Liaoning Provincial Key Laboratory of Carbohydrates, Dalian Institute of Chemical PhysicsChinese Academy of SciencesDalianPeople’s Republic of China

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