Pseudogenization of the rhizobium-responsive EXOPOLYSACCHARIDE RECEPTOR in Parasponia is a rare event in nodulating plants

Simon Dupin, Joël Klein, Luuk Rutten, Rik Huisman, Rene Geurts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Nodule symbiosis with diazotrophic Frankia or rhizobium occurs in plant species belonging to ten taxonomic lineages within the related orders Fabales, Fagales, Cucurbitales, and Rosales. Phylogenomic studies indicate that this nitrogen-fixing nodulation trait has a single evolutionary origin. In legume model plants, the molecular interaction between plant and rhizobium microsymbiont is mapped to a significant degree. A specific LysM-type receptor kinase, LjEPR3 in Lotus japonicus and MtLYK10 in Medicago truncatula, was found to act in a secondary identity-based mechanism, controlling intracellular rhizobium infection. Furthermore, LjEPR3 showed to bind surface exopolysaccharides of Mesorhizobium loti, the diazotrophic microsymbiont of L. japonicus. EPR3 orthologous genes are not unique to legumes. Surprisingly, however, its ortholog EXOPOLYSACCHARIDE RECEPTOR (EPR) is pseudogenized in Parasponia, the only lineage of non-legume plants that nodulate also with rhizobium. Results: Analysis of genome sequences showed that EPR3 orthologous genes are highly conserved in nodulating plants. We identified a conserved retrotransposon insertion in the EPR promoter region in three Parasponia species, which associates with defected transcriptional regulation of this gene. Subsequently, we studied the EPR gene of two Trema species as they represent the sister genus of Parasponia for which it is assumed it lost the nitrogen-fixing nodulation trait. Both Trema species possess apparently functional EPR genes that have a nodulation-specific expression profile when introduced into a Parasponia background. This indicates the EPR gene functioned in nodulation in the Parasponia-Trema ancestor. Conclusion: We conclude that nodule-specific expression of EPR3 orthologous genes is shared between the legume and Parasponia-Trema lineage, suggesting an ancestral function in the nitrogen-fixing nodulation trait. Pseudogenization of EPR in Parasponia is an exceptional case in nodulating plants. We speculate that this may have been instrumental to the microsymbiont switch -from Frankia to rhizobium- that has occurred in the Parasponia lineage and the evolution of a novel crack entry infection mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number225
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2022


  • EPR3
  • Nodulation
  • Parasponia
  • Trema


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