The traditional medicine licorice is the most widely consumed herbal product in the world. Although much research work on studying the changes in the active compounds of licorice has been reported, there are still many areas, such as the dynamic accumulation of secondary metabolites in licorice, that need to be further studied. In this study, the secondary metabolites from licorice under two different methods of stress were investigated by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with hybrid linear ion trap–Orbitrap mass spectrometry (UHPLC-LTQ-Orbitrap-MS). A complex continuous coordination of flavonoids and triterpenoids in a network was modulated by different methods of stress during growth. The results showed that a total of 51 secondary metabolites were identified in licorice under ABA stress. The partial least squares–discriminate analysis (PLS-DA) revealed the distinction of obvious compounds among stress-specific districts relative to ABA stress. The targeted results showed that there were significant differences in the accumulation patterns of the deeply targeted 41 flavonoids and 10 triterpenoids compounds by PCA and PLS-DA analyses. To survey the effects of flavonoid and triterpenoid metabolism under ABA stress, we inspected the stress-specific metabolic changes. Our study testified that the majority of flavonoids and triterpenoids were elevated in licorice under ABA stress, while the signature metabolite affecting the dynamic accumulation of secondary metabolites was detected. Taken together, our results suggest that ABA-specific metabolite profiling dynamically changed in terms of the biosynthesis of flavonoids and triterpenoids, which may offer new trains of thought on the regular pattern of dynamic accumulation of secondary metabolites in licorice at the metabolite level. Our results also provide a reference for clinical applications and directional planting and licorice breeding.
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