Phosphorylation and proteome dynamics in pathogen-resistant tomato plants

I.J.E. Stulemeijer

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Microbial plant pathogens impose a continuous threat on global food production. Similar to disease resistance in mammals, an innate immune system allows plants to recognise pathogens and swiftly activate defence. For the work described in this thesis, the interaction between tomato and the extracellular fungal pathogen Cladosporium fulvum serves as a model system to study host resistance and susceptibility in plant-pathogen interactions. Resistance to C. fulvum in tomato plants follows the gene-for-gene hypothesis, which requires the presence of a Cf resistance gene in tomato and presence of the cognate avirulence gene (Avr) in C. fulvum. Upon perception of the Avr by a tomato plant, a typical hypersensitive response (HR) is induced that renders the plant resistant to C. fulvum. In the years preceding this thesis work, most research was focussed on understanding which Avrs are produced by C. fulvum and how these Avrs are actually perceived by resistant plants (Chapter 1). The goal of the work described in this thesis is to reveal downstream signalling cascades triggered upon Avr perception. Therefore, the HR was studied by using a model system in which the Cf-4 protein of tomato and the Avr4 protein from C. fulvum were simultaneously expressed in tomato seedlings. Since the Cf-4/Avr-induced responses are inhibited at 33°C and high humidity, these Cf-4/Avr4 seedlings initiate a synchronized and reproducible HR after incubation at 33°C and a subsequent shift to 20°C, which allows studying downstream responses.
To prevent pathogen proliferation in the resistant plant, defence signalling cascades need to be activated extremely fast upon pathogen recognition. Therefore, many downstream signalling cascades depend on post-translational modifications (PTMs) that allow a rapid, reversible, controlled and highly specific transduction of perceived signals. An overview of the various types of PTMs and their role in the resistance response of plants to pathogens is provided in Chapter 2. In addition, examples are provided of successful pathogens that manipulate PTMs.
Protein phosphorylation seems to play an important role in the Cf-4/Avr4-triggered HR, since Avr4 perception leads to the specific activation of at least three mitogen-activated protein kinases, LeMPK1, -2 and -3, which requires phosphorylation by an upstream kinase (Chapter 3). Each of these three kinases seems to have a different role in downstream defence signalling, since the kinases were shown to have different phosphorylation specificities and therefore most likely have different downstream target substrates. Furthermore, these kinases appear to play a different role with regard to HR and full resistance to C. fulvum in tomato (Chapter 3).
Since protein phosphorylation was shown to play an important role in Cf-4/Avr4-induced defence signalling, the phosphoproteome of Cf-4/Avr4 and control seedlings after HR initiation was studied using a new approach (Chapter 4). This approach led to the identification of 50 phosphoproteins, most of which have not been described in tomato before. Quantification revealed 13 phosphoproteins with an altered abundance in the Cf-4/Avr4 seedlings as compared to the control, which implies HR-induced differential phosphorylation of these proteins. Phosphorylation-mediated regulation of the activity of these proteins pointed to a swift decrease in photosynthetic activity upon HR-initiation, which was confirmed by experiments in which the actual efficiency of the photosynthesis in the Cf-4/Avr4 seedlings was determined upon induction of the HR. Furthermore, a shift from aerobic to anaerobic respiration, which possibly results from oxygen depletion caused by a massive oxidative burst consuming large amounts of oxygen, seems to take place upon initiation of the HR. Finally, differential phosphorylation of the four cytoplasmic isoforms of the Hsp90 chaperone protein was observed, suggesting that they play distinct roles during defence signalling (Chapter 4).
In addition to the HR, other associated defence responses are initiated upon recognition of C. fulvum. One of these responses is the secretion of defence-related proteins into the apoplast, which is the environment where C. fulvum operates. Therefore, the dynamics of the apoplastic proteome of resistant, Cf-4-expressing plants and susceptible tomato plants lacking Cf-4, were studied after inoculation with a strain of C. fulvum that secretes Avr4 (Chapter 5). Analysis of the apoplastic proteome revealed a slow accumulation of defence proteins in the apoplast of susceptible plants, which is most likely the result of perception of general elicitors of C. fulvum by tomato. In resistant plants, the same set of proteins accumulates in the apoplast, but this occurs much faster and to higher levels. The accelerated response is caused by the Cf-4/Avr4-initiated HR that also leads to cell death. The HR, in combination with the accelerated protein secretion, renders the plants resistant to C. fulvum. In addition, in susceptible plants C. fulvum seems to specifically downregulate genes encoding cell wall proteins of which the accumulation possibly hampers nutrient and water uptake and thereby proliferation of the pathogen in the tomato apoplast. Possibly, an effector of C. fulvum targets a receptor for general elicitors, thereby suppressing transcription of these genes (Chapter 5).
Most data described in this thesis have been obtained from Cf-4/Avr4 seedlings in which the HR can be inhibited by incubating the plants at 33°C. The present data suggest that this temperature-sensitivity occurs at the site of signal perception. Possibly, cytoplasmic Hsp90 stabilizes R protein complexes localized at the plasma membrane. Upon high temperature stress, an increased demand for Hsp90 occurs in the cells to stabilize unfolding proteins that play a role in basal cellular processes, which could lead to the release and subsequent degradation of R protein complexes, rendering defence signalling temperature-sensitive (Chapter 6). The temperature-sensitivity of the Cf-4/Avr4-initiated HR provides a very clean and reproducible tool to study the HR, in the absence of the fungus that produces the Avr. Furthermore, the data described in this thesis provide evidence that the Cf-4/Avr4 seedlings recover from the temperature stress before the specific Cf-4/Avr4-triggered HR is initiated. The possibility to separate the events directly associated with the HR from the full resistance response of the plant to the invading fungus, provides new insight into the complexity of plant defence responses and their specific suppression upon successful colonization by C. fulvum (Chapter 6). Comparison of the defence response to other processes that occur in the cell underlines that resistance and HR execution cannot be seen as an independent and separate process in resistant plants that have recognized a pathogen. On the contrary, signalling cascades seem to depend on similar components and on cascades that possibly converge, eventually leading to a similar response (Chapter 6). Finally, an up to date model for the Cf-4/Avr4-triggered HR and resistance is proposed, based on data that have been published before and the results obtained with the research described in this thesis (Chapter 6).

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • de Wit, Pierre, Promotor
  • Joosten, Matthieu, Co-promotor
Award date2 Jun 2008
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085048855
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • solanum lycopersicum
  • passalora fulva
  • plant pathology
  • signal transduction
  • phosphorylation
  • protein synthesis
  • kinases
  • defence mechanisms
  • plant-microbe interactions
  • host pathogen interactions
  • proteomics
  • resistance breeding


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