Department of Horticulture, New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, Cornell University, 630 West North Street, Geneva, New York 14456, U.S.A.
Some plant-symbiotic strains of the genus Trichoderma colonize roots and induce profound changes in plant gene expression that lead to enhanced growth, especially under biotic and abiotic stresses. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that one of the protective mechanisms enhanced by T. harzianum T22 colonization is the antioxidant defense mechanism. Having established that strain T22 modulates the expression of the genes encoding antioxidant enzymes, the status of antioxidant defense of tomato seedlings in response to colonization by T22 and water deficit was investigated. Total ascorbate or glutathione levels were not affected by either stimuli, but under water deficit, antioxidant pools became more oxidized (lower ratios of reduced to oxidized forms), whereas colonized plants maintained redox state as high as or higher than unstressed and untreated plants. The enhanced redox state of colonized plants could be explained by their higher activity of ascorbate and glutathione-recycling enzymes, higher activity of superoxide dismutase, catalase, and ascorbate peroxidase, in both root and shoot throughout the experiment. Similar enzymes were induced in uncolonized plants in response to water-deficit stress but to a lower extent when compared with colonized plants. This orchestrated enhancement in activity of reactive oxygen species (ROS)-scavenging pathways in colonized plants in response to stress supports the hypothesis that enhanced resistance of colonized plants to water deficit is at least partly due to higher capacity to scavenge ROS and recycle oxidized ascorbate and glutathione, a mechanism that is expected to enhance tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses.