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Dissecting hormonal pathways in nitrogen-fixing rhizobium symbioses

  • van Zeijl, Arjan
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2017
Wageningen University and Researchcenter Publications
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Nitrogen is a key element for plant growth. To meet nitrogen demands, some plants establish an endosymbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing rhizobium or Frankia bacteria. This involves formation of specialized root lateral organs, named nodules. These nodules are colonized intracellularly, which creates optimal physiological conditions for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen by the microbial symbiont. Nitrogen-fixing endosymbioses are found among four related taxonomic orders that together form the nitrogen-fixation clade. Within this clade, nodulation is restricted to ten separate lineages that are scattered among mostly non-nodulating plant species. This limited distribution suggests that genetic adaptations that allowed nodulation to evolve occurred in a common ancestor. A major aim of the scientific community is to unravel the evolutionary trajectory towards a nitrogen-fixing nodule symbiosis. The formation of nitrogen-fixing root nodules is best studied in legumes (Fabaceae, order Fabales); especially in Lotus japonicus and Medicago truncatula, two species that serve as model. Legumes and Parasponia (Cannabaceae, order Rosales) represent the only two lineages that can form nodules with rhizobium bacteria. Studies on M. truncatula, L. japonicus and Parasponia showed, amongst others, that nodule formation is initiated upon perception of rhizobial secreted lipo-chitooligosaccharide (LCO) signals. These signals are structurally related to the symbiotic signals produced by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. These obligate biotropic fungi colonize roots of most land plants and form dense hyphal structures inside existing root cortical cells. Rhizobial and mycorrhizal LCOs are perceived by LysM-domain-containing receptor-like kinases. These activate a signaling pathway that is largely shared between both symbioses. Symbiotic LCO receptors are closely related to chitin innate immune receptors, and some receptors even function in symbiotic as well as innate immune signaling. In Chapter 2, I review the intertwining of symbiotic LCO perception and chitin-triggered immunity. Furthermore, I discuss how rhizobia and mycorrhiza might employ LCO signaling to modulate plant immunity. In a perspective, I speculate on a role for plant hormones in immune modulation, besides an important function in nodule organogenesis. In legumes, nodule organogenesis requires activation of cytokinin signaling. Mutants in the orthologous cytokinin receptor genes MtCRE1 and LjLHK1 in M. truncatula and L. japonicus, respectively, are severely affected in nodule formation. However, how cytokinin signaling is activated in response to rhizobium LCO perception and to what extent this contributes to rhizobium LCO-induced signaling remained elusive. In Chapter 3, I show that the majority of transcriptional changes induced in wild-type M. truncatula, upon application of rhizobium LCOs, are dependent on activation of MtCRE1-mediated cytokinin signaling. Among the genes induced in wild type are several involved in cytokinin biosynthesis. Consistently, cytokinin measurements indicate that cytokinins rapidly accumulate in M. truncatula roots upon treatment with rhizobium LCOs. This includes the bioactive cytokinins isopentenyl adenine and trans-zeatin. Therefore, I argue that cytokinin accumulation represents a key step in the pathway leading to legume root nodule organogenesis. Strigolactones are plant hormones of which biosynthesis is increased in response to nutrient limitation. In rice (Oryza sativa) and M. truncatula, this response requires the GRAS-type transcriptional regulators NSP1 and NSP2. Both proteins regulate expression of DWARF27 (D27), which encodes an enzyme that performs the first committed step in strigolactone biosynthesis. NSP1 and NSP2 are also essential components of the signaling cascade that controls legume root nodule formation. In line with this, I questioned whether the NSP1-NSP2-D27 regulatory module functions in rhizobium symbiosis. In Chapter 4, I show that in M. truncatula MtD27 expression is induced within hours after treatment with rhizobium LCOs. Spatiotemporal expression studies revealed that MtD27 is expressed in the dividing cells of the nodule primordium. At later stages, its expression becomes confined to the meristem and distal infection zone of the mature nodule. Analysis of the expression pattern of MtCCD7 and MtCCD8, two additional strigolactone biosynthesis genes, showed that these genes are co-expressed with MtD27 in nodule primordia and mature nodules. Additionally, I show that symbiotic expression of MtD27 requires MtNSP1 and MtNSP2. This suggests that the NSP1-NSP2-D27 regulatory module is co-opted in rhizobium symbiosis. Comparative studies between legumes and nodulating non-legumes could identify shared genetic networks required for nodule formation. We recently adopted Parasponia, the only non-legume lineage able to engage in rhizobium symbiosis. However, to perform functional studies, powerful reverse genetic tools for Parasponia are essential. In Chapter 5, I describe the development of a fast and efficient protocol for CRISPR/Cas9-mediated mutagenesis in Agrobacterium tumefaciens-transformed Parasponia andersonii plants. Using this protocol, stable mutants can be obtained in a period of three months. These mutants can be effectively propagated in vitro, which allows phenotypic evaluation already in the T0 generation. As such, phenotypes can be obtained within six months after transformation. As proof-of-principle, we mutated PanHK4, PanEIN2, PanNSP1 and PanNSP2. These genes are putatively involved in cytokinin and ethylene signaling and regulation of strigolactone biosynthesis, respectively. Additionally, orthologues of these genes perform essential symbiotic functions in legumes. Panhk4 and Panein2 knockout mutants display developmental phenotypes associated with reduced cytokinin and ethylene signaling. Analysis of Pannsp1 and Pannsp2 mutants revealed a conserved role for NSP1 and NSP2 in regulation of the strigolactone biosynthesis genes D27 and MAX1 and root nodule organogenesis. In contrast, symbiotic mutant phenotypes of Panhk4 and Panein2 mutants are different from their legume counterparts. This illustrates the value of Parasponia as comparative model - besides legumes - to study the genetics underlying rhizobium symbiosis. Phylogenetic reconstruction showed that the Parasponia lineage is embedded in the non-nodulating Trema genus. This close relationship suggests that Parasponia and Trema only recently diverged in nodulation ability. In Chapter 6, I exploited this close relationship to question whether the nodulation trait is associated with gene expression differentiation. To this end, I sequenced root transcriptomes of two Parasponia and three Trema species. Principal component analysis separated all Parasponia samples from those of Trema along the first principal component. This component explains more than half of the observed variance, indicating that the root transcriptomes of two Parasponia species are distinct from that of the Trema sister species T. levigata, as well as the outgroup species T. orientalis and T. tomentosa. To determine, whether the transcriptional differences between Parasponia and Trema are relevant in a symbiotic context, I compared the list of differentially expressed genes to a list of genes that show nodule-enhanced expression in P. andersonii. This revealed significant enrichment of nodule-enhanced genes among genes that lower expressed in roots of Parasponia compared to Trema. Among the genes differentially expressed between Parasponia and Trema roots are several involved in mycorrhizal symbiosis as well as jasmonic acid biosynthesis. Measurements of hormone concentrations, showed that Parasponia and Trema roots harbor a difference in jasmonic acid/salicylic acid balance. However, mutants in jasmonic acid biosynthesis are unaffected in nodule development. Therefore, it remains a challenge to determine whether the difference in root transcriptomes between Parasponia and Trema are relevant in a symbiotic context. In Chapter 7, I review hormone function in nitrogen-fixing nodule symbioses in legumes, Parasponia and actinorhizal species. In this chapter, I question whether different nodulating lineages recruited the same hormonal networks to function in nodule formation. Additionally, I discuss whether nodulating species harbor genetic adaptations in hormonal pathways that correlate with nodulation capacity.

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