The Transcriptional Regulation of the Central Plant Defense Signal, Salicylic Acid

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Salicylic acid (SA) is a central plant defense signal. It is not only required for closing the stomata upon infection to prevent pathogens from entering into the plant apoplast, but also mediates defense responses activated by pathogen-originated microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs) and effectors in the infected tissues. In addition, SA is a necessary and sufficient signal for systemic acquired resistance (SAR). In Arabidopsis thaliana, SA level increases in response to pathogen attack, which is essential for activating defense responses. This SA accumulation involves transcriptional activation of several genes including ICS1 (ISOCHORISMATE SYNTHASE 1), EDS5 (ENHANCED DISEASE SUSCEPTIBILITY 5), EDS1 (ENHANCED DISEASE SUSCEPTIBILITY 1), PAD4 (PHYTOALEXIN-DEFICIENT 4) and PBS3 (avrPphB SUSCEPTIBLE 3). However, it is not well understood how pathogenic signals induce these SA accumulation genes. Interestingly, our time-course transcriptome analysis showed that these five genes share a similar pathogen-induced expression pattern, suggesting the existence of common transcription factors (TFs). Through yeast-one-hybrid screening, a TF NTL9 was identified for its interactions with the promoters of the SA accumulation genes. Preferentially expressed in guard cells, NTL9 activates the expression of SA accumulation genes in guard cells. The ntl9 mutant is defective in pathogen-induced stomatal closure mediated by a well-characterized MAMP, flg22. Consistent with the stomatal closure defect, the ntl9 mutant exhibits elevated susceptibility to surface-inoculated pathogens. The stomatal closure defect of the ntl9 mutant can be rescued by exogenous application of SA, demonstrating that NTL9 acts upstream of SA in stomatal closure response. These results suggest that NTL9-mediated activation of SA accumulation genes is essential for MAMP-triggered stomatal closure.

While plants induce SA to activate defense responses, pathogens can also produce virulence factors to counteract the effects of SA. Coronatine is one such virulence factor produced by Pseudomonas syringae. Coronatine is known to promote opening of stomata for bacterial entry, bacterial growth in the apoplast, systemic susceptibility and development of disease symptoms such as chlorosis. In the process of examining the mechanisms underlying coronatine-mediated virulence, three homologous TFs, ANAC019, ANAC055 and ANAC072, were found to be activated by coronatine directly through the TF, MYC2. Genetic characterization of these three TF mutants revealed that these TFs mediate multiple virulence effects of coronatine by inhibiting SA accumulation. To exert this inhibitory effect, these TFs repress ICS1 and activate BSMT1, genes involved in SA biosynthesis and inactivation modification, respectively. Thus, a signaling cascade downstream of coronatine was illustrated to dampen SA-mediated defense responses through differential transcriptional regulation of genes related to SA level.

Taken together, my dissertation studies revealed novel transcriptional regulation of SA production and demonstrated that this transcriptional regulation is a vital point not only for plant defense activation but also for pathogen manipulation to counteract defense responses. Further studies on the interplay of this transcriptional regulation by different TFs would broaden our understanding about the dynamics of plant-pathogen interaction.






Zheng, Xiaoyu (2014). The Transcriptional Regulation of the Central Plant Defense Signal, Salicylic Acid. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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