Unmasking host and microbial strategies in the Agrobacterium-plant defense tango

Coevolutionary forces drive adaptation of both plant-associated microbes and their hosts. Eloquently captured in the Red Queen Hypothesis, the complexity of each plant–pathogen relationship reflects escalating adversarial strategies, but also external biotic and abiotic pressures on both partners. Innate immune responses are triggered by highly conserved pathogen-associated molecular patterns, or PAMPs, that are harbingers of microbial presence. Upon cell surface receptor-mediated recognition of these pathogen-derived molecules, host plants mount a variety of physiological responses to limit pathogen survival and/or invasion. Successful pathogens often rely on secretion systems to translocate host-modulating effectors that subvert plant defenses, thereby increasing virulence. Host plants, in turn, have evolved to recognize these effectors, activating what has typically been characterized as a pathogen-specific form of immunity. Recent data support the notion that PAMP-triggered and effector-triggered defenses are complementary facets of a convergent, albeit differentially regulated, set of immune responses. This review highlights the key players in the plant’s recognition and signal transduction pathways, with a focus on the aspects that may limit Agrobacterium tumefaciens infection and the ways it might overcome those defenses. Recent advances in the field include a growing appreciation for the contributions of cytoskeletal dynamics and membrane trafficking to the regulation of these exquisitely tuned defenses. Pathogen counter-defenses frequently manipulate the interwoven hormonal pathways that mediate host responses. Emerging systems-level analyses include host physiological factors such as circadian cycling. The existing literature indicates that varying or even conflicting results from different labs may well be attributable to environmental factors including time of day of infection, temperature, and/or developmental stage of the host plant.

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