Molecular imaging of alkaloids in khat (Catha edulis) leaves with MeV-SIMS

Bostjan Jencic*, Luka Jeromel, Nina Ogrinc Potocnik, Katarina Vogel-Mikus, Primoz Vavpetic, Zdravko Rupnik, Klemen Bucar, Matjaz Vencelj, Mitja Kelemen, Jiro Matsuo, Masakazu Kusakari, Zdravko Siketic, Muhammad A. Al-Jalali, Abdallah Shaltout, Primoz Pelicon

*Corresponding author for this work

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Imaging Mass Spectroscopy (IMS) is a unique research tool providing localization and identification of a wide range of biomolecules as essential data to understand biochemical processes in living organisms. Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry with high-energy heavy ions (MeV-SIMS) is emerging as a promising IMS technique for chemical imaging of biological tissue.

We measured the molecular mass spatial distributions in leaves of khat (Catha edulis). Khat is a natural drug plant, native to eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In these countries, fresh leaves are being chewed by significant part of population. It was reported that 80% of the adult population in Yemen chew the khat leaves. The main stimulating effects of khat are induced by a monoamine alkaloid called cathinone. During leaf ageing, cathinone is further metabolised to cathine and norephedrine. Earlier studies identified the alkaloids in khat, however little is known on their spatial distribution, reflecting the biosynthesis and accumulation in the tissue.

Chemical mapping of alkaloids on cross-sections of khat leaves by MeV-SIMS was done at JSI by a pulsed 5.8 MeV Cl-35(6+) beam, focused to a diameter of 15 mu m, using a linear time-of-flight (TOF) spectrometer with a mass resolution of 500. In addition, measurements of MeV-SIMS mass spectra were performed at Kyoto University by a continuous broad beam of 6 MeV Cu-63(4+) ions at an orthogonal TOF spectrometer with a high mass resolution of 11,000. Sections of leaves were analysed and mass spectra obtained at both MeV-SIMS setups were compared. Tissue-level distributions of detected alkaloids are presented and discussed. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Imaging Mass Spectroscopy
  • MeV-SIMS
  • Khat
  • Nuclear microprobe

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