In order to cope with the presence of unfavorable compounds, plants can biotransform xenobiotics, translocate both parent compounds and metabolites, and perform compartmentation and segregation at the cellular or tissue level. Such a scenario also applies to mycotoxins, fungal secondary metabolites with a pre-eminent role in plant infection. In this work, we aimed to describe the effect of the interplay between Zea mays (maize) and aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) at the tissue and organ level. To address this challenge, we used atmospheric pressure scanning microprobe matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging (AP-SMALDI MSI) to investigate the biotransformation, localization and subsequent effects of AFB1 on primary and secondary metabolism of healthy maize plants, both in situ and from a metabolomics standpoint. High spatial resolution (5 µm) provided fine localization of AFB1, which was located within the root intercellular spaces, and co-localized with its phase-I metabolite aflatoxin M2. We provided a parallel visualization of maize metabolic changes, induced in different organs and tissues by an accumulation of AFB1. According to our untargeted metabolomics investigation, anthocyanin biosynthesis and chlorophyll metabolism in roots are most affected. The biosynthesis of these metabolites appears to be inhibited by AFB1 accumulation. On the other hand, metabolites found in above-ground organs suggest that the presence of AFB1 may also activate the biochemical response in the absence of an actual fungal infection; indeed, several plant secondary metabolites known for their antimicrobial or antioxidant activities were localized in the outer tissues, such as phenylpropanoids, benzoxazinoids, phytohormones and lipids.
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