Plant-Microbe Interactions, Department of Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands and Centre for BioSystems Genomics (CBSG), Wageningen, The Netherlands
Nep1-like proteins (NLP) are best known for their cytotoxic activity in dicot plants. NLP are taxonomically widespread among microbes with very different lifestyles. To learn more about this enigmatic protein family, we analyzed more than 500 available NLP protein sequences from fungi, oomycetes, and bacteria. Phylogenetic clustering showed that, besides the previously documented two types, an additional, more divergent, third NLP type could be distinguished. By closely examining the three NLP types, we identified a noncytotoxic subgroup of type 1 NLP (designated type 1a), which have substitutions in amino acids making up a cation-binding pocket that is required for cytotoxicity. Type 2 NLP were found to contain a putative calcium-binding motif, which was shown to be required for cytotoxicity. Members of both type 1 and type 2 NLP were found to possess additional cysteine residues that, based on their predicted proximity, make up potential disulfide bridges that could provide additional stability to these secreted proteins. Type 1 and type 2 NLP, although both cytotoxic to plant cells, differ in their ability to induce necrosis when artificially targeted to different cellular compartments in planta, suggesting they have different mechanisms of cytotoxicity.