Leaf spray mass spectrometry: A rapid ambient ionization technique to directly assess metabolites from plant tissues

Dana M. Freund, Katherine A. Sammons, Nokwanda P. Makunga, Jerry D. Cohen, Adrian D. Hegeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Plants produce thousands of small molecules that are diverse in their chemical properties. Mass spectrometry (MS) is a powerful technique for analyzing plant metabolites because it provides molecular weights with high sensitivity and specificity. Leaf spray MS is an ambient ionization technique where plant tissue is used for direct chemical analysis via electrospray, eliminating chromatography from the process. This approach to sampling metabolites allows for a wide range of chemical classes to be detected simultaneously from intact plant tissues, minimizing the amount of sample preparation needed. When used with a high-resolution, accurate mass MS, leaf spray MS facilitates the rapid detection of metabolites of interest. It is also possible to collect tandem mass fragmentation data with this technique to facilitate a compound identification. The combination of accurate mass measurements and fragmentation is beneficial in confirming compound identities. The leaf spray MS technique requires only minor modifications to a nanospray ionization source and is a useful tool to further expand the capabilities of a mass spectrometer. Here, fresh leaf tissue from Sceletium tortuosum (Aizoaceae), a traditional medicinal plant from South Africa, is analyzed; numerous mesembrine alkaloids are detected with leaf spray MS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere57949
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number136
StatePublished - Jun 21 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the NSF Plant Genome Research Program grant IOS-1238812 and the Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology IOS-1400818. The work was also funded by a Monsanto Graduate Student Fellowship to Katherine A. Sammons. The Fulbright African Researcher Scholars Program (2017-2018) is thanked for funding awarded to Nokwanda P. Makunga. We greatly appreciate the donation of a nanospray source from Jessica Prenni and the Proteomics and Metabolomics facility at Colorado State University.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Journal of Visualized Experiments. All rights reserved.


  • Ambient ionization
  • Biochemistry
  • Electrospray ionization
  • Issue 136
  • Leaf spray MS
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Mesembrine alkaloids
  • Natural products
  • Plant metabolites
  • Sceletium tortuosum
  • Small molecules


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