Certain plants known as 'metal hyperaccumulators' can accumulate exceptional concentrations of elements such as zinc, manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper, selenium, cadmium or arsenic in their above ground tissue. In members of the genus Alyssum, nickel concentrations can reach values as high as 3% of leaf dry biomass. These plants must possess very effective mechanisms for the transport chelation and sequestration of such elements within their tissues to avoid the toxic effects of free metal ions. Evidence from a number of different techniques suggests that nickel is concentrated primarily in the outermost, epidermal tissue of leaves of Alyssum hyperaccumulators, but there is currently no consensus on the principal sites of nickel sequestration. In this study, high resolution secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) analysis has been performed on longitudinal sections of Alyssum lesbiacum leaves. Elemental maps were obtained which revealed the high concentrations of nickel in the peripheral regions of the large unicellular stellate leaf hairs (trichomes) and in the epidermal cell layer. Electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) was used to provide independent confirmation of elemental distribution in the specimens, but the superior spatial resolution and high chemical sensitivity of the NanoSIMS technique provided a more detailed image of elemental distribution in these biological specimens at the cellular level. (C) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.