The molecular interplay between the circadian clock and the plant immune signal, salicylic acid

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Zhou, Mian


Dong, Xinnian

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Plants have evolved the circadian clock to anticipate environmental changes and coordinate internal biological processes. Recent studies unveiled the circadian regulation on plant immune responses as well as a reciprocal effect of immune activation on the clock activity. However, it is still largely unknown how the circadian clock interacts with specific immune signals. Plant hormone salicylic acid (SA) is a key immune signal. Its accumulation is sufficient to trigger immune responses and establish broad-spectrum resistance, known as systemic acquired resistance (SAR). My dissertation work studied whether SA could interact with the circadian clock and what potential mechanisms and the biological significance are.

I first found that SA could reinforce the circadian clock through the modulation of redox state in an NONEXPRESSER OF PR 1 (NPR1)-dependent manner. The basal redox state manifested by the NADPH abundance is shown to display a circadian rhythm. Perturbation in this cellular redox rhythm caused by the immune signal SA is sensed by the master immune regulator NPR1. NPR1 then triggers defense genes expression to generate SAR as well as transcriptionally activates several clock genes to reinforce the circadian clock. Since the basal redox state, which reflects the cellular metabolic activities, is under the circadian control, the reinforced circadian clock may negate the SA-triggered redox perturbation to restore the normal redox rhythm. One of NPR1-regulated clock components is TIMMING OF CAB2 EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1). SA/NPR1-mediated increase in TOC1 expression alone could lead to dampening of SAR through direct transcriptional repression on defense genes. Since maintenance of the immune responses is an energy-costly process, the strength and duration of SAR, a preventative defense strategy, need to be fine-tuned to reduce unnecessary energy expenditure. Therefore, both SA-dependent circadian clock reinforcement and the specific clock component TOC1 induction help to ensure a proper immune induction and a balanced energy allocation between defense and normal metabolic activities.

Besides the SA effects on the circadian clock, the circadian clock is found to reciprocally regulate SA biosynthesis. The clock gene, CCA1 HIKING EXPEDITION (CHE), and the major SA synthesis gene, ISOCHORISMATE SYNTHASE 1 (ICS1), show in-phase oscillatory rhythms, indicating that CHE may contribute to generation of the circadian rhythm of the basal SA level. I found that CHE, as a transcription factor, directly binds to the promoter of ICS1 to positively regulate its expression. After pathogen infection, CHE promotes endogenous SA biosynthesis and acts as a positive regulator of SAR. The function of the clock component CHE in activating ICS1 not only reveals a novel transcriptional regulatory mechanism of SA accumulation but also provides a new molecular link between the circadian clock and plant immunity.

In summary, my dissertation studies identified previously unknown molecular mechanisms of how the circadian clock mediates SA biosynthesis and SA-triggered immune responses. The interplay between the circadian clock and SA achieves a balance between activation of immune responses and maintenance of normal metabolic activities. Further studies may explore how other plant immune signals affect the circadian clock as well as how different clock components coordinately regulate the plant immunity. These future directions will broaden our understanding about the clock-immunity crosstalk.






Zhou, Mian (2014). The molecular interplay between the circadian clock and the plant immune signal, salicylic acid. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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