In vitro shoot cultures of Hypericum perforatum derived from wild populations grown in Armenia have a wide variation of hypericin and pseudohypericin metabolite content. We found that a germ line denoted as HP3 produces six times more hypericin and fourteen times more pseudohypericin than a second line labeled HP1. We undertook a structural comparison of the two lines (HP1 and HP3) in order to see if there are any anatomical or morphological differences that could explain the differences in production of these economically important metabolites. Analysis by LM (light microscopy), SEM (scanning electron microscopy), and TEM (transmission electron microscopy) reveals that the hypericin/pseudohypericin-containing black glands located along the margins of the leaves consist of a peripheral sheath of flattened cells surrounding a core of interior cells that are typically dead at maturity. The peripheral cells of the HP3 glands appear less flattened than those of the HP1 glands. This may indicate that the peripheral cells are involved in hypericin/pseudohypericin production. Furthermore, we find that these peripheral cells undergo a developmental transition into the gland's interior cells. The fact that the size of the peripheral cells may correlate with metabolite production adds a new hypothesis for the actual site of hypericin synthesis.
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