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Hydroxycinnamic Acid Degradation, a Broadly Conserved Trait, Protects Ralstonia solanacearum from Chemical Plant Defenses and Contributes to Root Colonization and Virulence

March 2015 , Volume 28 , Number  3
Pages  286 - 297

Tiffany M. Lowe,1,2 Florent Ailloud,3,4 and Caitilyn Allen2

1Microbiology Doctoral Training Program, and 2Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, U.S.A.; 3CIRAD, UMR Peuplements Végétaux et Bioagresseurs en Milieu Tropical, CIRAD-Université de la Réunion, Pôle de Protection des Plantes, Saint Pierre, La Réunion, France; 4Anses, Plant Health laboratory, Saint Pierre, La Réunion, France

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Accepted 15 November 2014.

Plants produce hydroxycinnamic acid (HCA) defense compounds to combat pathogens, such as the bacterium Ralstonia solanacearum. We showed that an HCA degradation pathway is genetically and functionally conserved across diverse R. solanacearum strains. Further, a feruloyl-CoA synthetase (Δfcs) mutant that cannot degrade HCA was less virulent on tomato plants. To understand the role of HCA degradation in bacterial wilt disease, we tested the following hypotheses: HCA degradation helps the pathogen i) grow, as a carbon source; ii) spread, by reducing HCA-derived physical barriers; and iii) survive plant antimicrobial compounds. Although HCA degradation enabled R. solanacearum growth on HCA in vitro, HCA degradation was dispensable for growth in xylem sap and root exudate, suggesting that HCA are not significant carbon sources in planta. Acetyl-bromide quantification of lignin demonstrated that R. solanacearum infections did not affect the gross quantity or distribution of stem lignin. However, the Δfcs mutant was significantly more susceptible to inhibition by two HCA, namely, caffeate and p-coumarate. Finally, plant colonization assays suggested that HCA degradation facilitates early stages of infection and root colonization. Together, these results indicated that ability to degrade HCA contributes to bacterial wilt virulence by facilitating root entry and by protecting the pathogen from HCA toxicity.

© 2015 The American Phytopathological Society