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1.  Local and Systemic Regulation of Plant Root System Architecture and Symbiotic Nodulation by a Receptor-Like Kinase 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(12):e1004891.
In plants, root system architecture is determined by the activity of root apical meristems, which control the root growth rate, and by the formation of lateral roots. In legumes, an additional root lateral organ can develop: the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodule. We identified in Medicago truncatula ten allelic mutants showing a compact root architecture phenotype (cra2) independent of any major shoot phenotype, and that consisted of shorter roots, an increased number of lateral roots, and a reduced number of nodules. The CRA2 gene encodes a Leucine-Rich Repeat Receptor-Like Kinase (LRR-RLK) that primarily negatively regulates lateral root formation and positively regulates symbiotic nodulation. Grafting experiments revealed that CRA2 acts through different pathways to regulate these lateral organs originating from the roots, locally controlling the lateral root development and nodule formation systemically from the shoots. The CRA2 LRR-RLK therefore integrates short- and long-distance regulations to control root system architecture under non-symbiotic and symbiotic conditions.
Author Summary
Despite the essential functions of roots in plant access to water and nutrients, root system architecture has not been directly considered for crop breeding improvement, but it is now considered key for a “second green revolution.” In this study, we aimed to decipher integrated molecular mechanisms coordinating lateral organ development in legume roots: lateral roots and nitrogen-fixing symbiotic nodules. The compact root architecture 2 (cra2) mutant form an increased number of lateral roots and a reduced number of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodules. This mutant is affected in a CLAVATA1-like Leucine-Rich Repeat Receptor-Like Kinase (LRR-RLK) that has not previously been linked to root development. Grafting experiments showed that CRA2 negatively controls lateral root formation and positively controls nodule development through local and systemic pathways, respectively. Overall, our results can be integrated in the framework of regulatory pathways controlling the symbiotic nodule number, the so-called “Autoregulation of Nodulation” (AON), involving another LRR-RLK that also acts systemically from the shoots, SUNN (Super Numeric Nodules). A coordinated function of the CRA2 and SUNN LRR-RLKs may thereby permit the dynamic fine tuning of the nodule number depending on the environmental conditions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004891
PMCID: PMC4270686  PMID: 25521478
2.  Computational Complementation: A Modelling Approach to Study Signalling Mechanisms during Legume Autoregulation of Nodulation 
PLoS Computational Biology  2010;6(2):e1000685.
Autoregulation of nodulation (AON) is a long-distance signalling regulatory system maintaining the balance of symbiotic nodulation in legume plants. However, the intricacy of internal signalling and absence of flux and biochemical data, are a bottleneck for investigation of AON. To address this, a new computational modelling approach called “Computational Complementation” has been developed. The main idea is to use functional-structural modelling to complement the deficiency of an empirical model of a loss-of-function (non-AON) mutant with hypothetical AON mechanisms. If computational complementation demonstrates a phenotype similar to the wild-type plant, the signalling hypothesis would be suggested as “reasonable”. Our initial case for application of this approach was to test whether or not wild-type soybean cotyledons provide the shoot-derived inhibitor (SDI) to regulate nodule progression. We predicted by computational complementation that the cotyledon is part of the shoot in terms of AON and that it produces the SDI signal, a result that was confirmed by reciprocal epicotyl-and-hypocotyl grafting in a real-plant experiment. This application demonstrates the feasibility of computational complementation and shows its usefulness for applications where real-plant experimentation is either difficult or impossible.
Author Summary
Endogenous signals, such as phytohormones, play a vital role in plant development and function, controlling processes such as flowering, branching, disease response, and nodulation. However, the signalling mechanisms are so subtle and so complex that details about them remain largely unknown. In this study, we develop a “Computational Complementation” approach for the investigation of long-distance signalling networks during legume autoregulation of nodulation (AON). The key idea is to use computational modelling to complement the deficiency of an empirical model of an AON deficient mutant with hypothesised AON components. If the complementation restores a wild-type nodulation phenotype, the modelled hypotheses would be supported as reasonable. To evaluate the feasibility of this approach, we tested whether wild-type soybean cotyledons participate in AON, commonly controlled by “real” leaves. The test gave an affirmative result (i.e., cotyledons do have AON activity), which was subsequently confirmed by a graft experiment on real plants. Future applications of this approach may be to test candidate AON signals such as auxins, flavones, and CLE peptides, and other plant signalling networks.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000685
PMCID: PMC2829028  PMID: 20195551
3.  NODULE INCEPTION Directly Targets NF-Y Subunit Genes to Regulate Essential Processes of Root Nodule Development in Lotus japonicus 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003352.
The interactions of legumes with symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria cause the formation of specialized lateral root organs called root nodules. It has been postulated that this root nodule symbiosis system has recruited factors that act in early signaling pathways (common SYM genes) partly from the ancestral mycorrhizal symbiosis. However, the origins of factors needed for root nodule organogenesis are largely unknown. NODULE INCEPTION (NIN) is a nodulation-specific gene that encodes a putative transcription factor and acts downstream of the common SYM genes. Here, we identified two Nuclear Factor-Y (NF-Y) subunit genes, LjNF-YA1 and LjNF-YB1, as transcriptional targets of NIN in Lotus japonicus. These genes are expressed in root nodule primordia and their translational products interact in plant cells, indicating that they form an NF-Y complex in root nodule primordia. The knockdown of LjNF-YA1 inhibited root nodule organogenesis, as did the loss of function of NIN. Furthermore, we found that NIN overexpression induced root nodule primordium-like structures that originated from cortical cells in the absence of bacterial symbionts. Thus, NIN is a crucial factor responsible for initiating nodulation-specific symbiotic processes. In addition, ectopic expression of either NIN or the NF-Y subunit genes caused abnormal cell division during lateral root development. This indicated that the Lotus NF-Y subunits can function to stimulate cell division. Thus, transcriptional regulation by NIN, including the activation of the NF-Y subunit genes, induces cortical cell division, which is an initial step in root nodule organogenesis. Unlike the legume-specific NIN protein, NF-Y is a major CCAAT box binding protein complex that is widespread among eukaryotes. We propose that the evolution of root nodules in legume plants was associated with changes in the function of NIN. NIN has acquired functions that allow it to divert pathways involved in the regulation of cell division to root nodule organogenesis.
Author Summary
Legumes produce nodules in roots as the endosymbiotic organs for nitrogen-fixing bacteria, collectively called rhizobia. The symbiotic relationship enables legumes to survive on soil with poor nitrogen sources. The rhizobial infection triggers cell division in the cortex to generate root nodule primordia. The root nodule symbiosis has been thought to be recruited factors for the early signaling pathway from the ancestral mycorrhizal symbiosis, which usually does not accompany the root nodule formation. However, how the root nodule symbiosis-specific pathway inputs nodulation signals to molecular networks, by which cortical cell division is initiated, has not yet been elucidated. We found that NIN, a nodulation specific factor, induced cortical cell division without the rhizobial infection. NIN acted as a transcriptional activator and targeted two genes that encode different subunits of a NF-Y CCAAT box binding protein complex, LjNF-YA1 and LjNF-YB1. Inhibition of the LjNF-YA1 function prevented root nodule formation. Ectopic expression of the NF-Y subunit genes enhanced cell division in lateral root primordia that is not related to root nodule organogenesis. The NF-Y genes are thought to regulate cell division downstream of NIN. NF-Y is a general factor widespread in eukaryotes. We propose that NIN is a mediator between nodulation-specific signals and general regulatory mechanisms associated with cell proliferation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003352
PMCID: PMC3605141  PMID: 23555278
4.  Simple and efficient methods to generate split roots and grafted plants useful for long-distance signaling studies in Medicago truncatula and other small plants 
Plant Methods  2012;8:38.
Background
Long distance signaling is a common phenomenon in animal and plant development. In plants, lateral organs such as nodules and lateral roots are developmentally regulated by root-to-shoot and shoot-to-root long distance signaling. Grafting and split root experiments have been used in the past to study the systemic long distance effect of endogenous and environmental factors, however the potential of these techniques has not been fully realized because data replicates are often limited due to cumbersome and difficult approaches and many plant species with soft tissue are difficult to work with. Hence, developing simple and efficient methods for grafting and split root inoculation in these plants is of great importance.
Results
We report a split root inoculation system for the small legume M. truncatula as well as robust and reliable techniques of inverted-Y grafting and reciprocal grafting. Although the split root technique has been historically used for a variety of experimental purposes, we made it simple, efficient and reproducible for M. truncatula. Using our split root experiments, we showed the systemic long distance suppression of nodulation on a second wild type root inoculated after a delay, as well as the lack of this suppression in mutants defective in autoregulation. We demonstrated inverted-Y grafting as a method to generate plants having two different root genotypes. We confirmed that our grafting method does not affect the normal growth and development of the inserted root; the composite plants maintained normal root morphology and anatomy. Shoot-to-root reciprocal grafts were efficiently made with a modification of this technique and, like standard grafts, demonstrate that the regulatory signal defective in rdn1 mutants acts in the root.
Conclusions
Our split root inoculation protocol shows marked improvement over existing methods in the number and quality of the roots produced. The dual functions of the inverted-Y grafting approach are demonstrated: it is a useful system to produce a plant having roots of two different genotypes and is also more efficient than published shoot-to-root reciprocal grafting techniques. Both techniques together allow dissection of long distance plant developmental regulation with very simple, efficient and reproducible approaches.
doi:10.1186/1746-4811-8-38
PMCID: PMC3493353  PMID: 22971438
Split root; Inverted-Y; Grafting; Nodulation; Long-distance signaling; Systemic signaling; Medicago truncatula; RDN1
5.  A Sinorhizobium meliloti-specific N-acyl homoserine lactone quorum-sensing signal increases nodule numbers in Medicago truncatula independent of autoregulation 
N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) act as quorum sensing signals that regulate cell-density dependent behaviors in many gram-negative bacteria, in particular those important for plant-microbe interactions. AHLs can also be recognized by plants, and this may influence their interactions with bacteria. Here we tested whether the exposure to AHLs affects the nodule-forming symbiosis between legume hosts and rhizobia. We treated roots of the model legume, Medicago truncatula, with a range of AHLs either from its specific symbiont, Sinorhizobium meliloti, or from the potential pathogens, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Agrobacterium vitis. We found increased numbers of nodules formed on root systems treated with the S. meliloti-specific AHL, 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone, at a concentration of 1 μM, while the other AHLs did not result in significant changes to nodule numbers. We did not find any evidence for altered nodule invasion by the rhizobia. Quantification of flavonoids that could act as nod gene inducers in S. meliloti did not show any correlation with increased nodule numbers. The effects of AHLs were specific for an increase in nodule numbers, but not lateral root numbers or root length. Increased nodule numbers following 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone treatment were under control of autoregulation of nodulation and were still observed in the autoregulation mutant, sunn4 (super numeric nodules4). However, increases in nodule numbers by 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone were not found in the ethylene-insensitive sickle mutant. A comparison between M. truncatula with M. sativa (alfalfa) and Trifolium repens (white clover) showed that the observed effects of AHLs on nodule numbers were specific to M. truncatula, despite M. sativa nodulating with the same symbiont. We conclude that plant perception of the S. meliloti-specific 3-oxo-C14-homoserine lactone influences nodule numbers in M. truncatula via an ethylene-dependent, but autoregulation-independent mechanism.
doi:10.3389/fpls.2014.00551
PMCID: PMC4196514  PMID: 25352858
acyl homoserine lactones; autoregulation of nodulation; ethylene; flavonoids; nodulation; quorum sensing
6.  A Legume Genetic Framework Controls Infection of Nodules by Symbiotic and Endophytic Bacteria 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(6):e1005280.
Legumes have an intrinsic capacity to accommodate both symbiotic and endophytic bacteria within root nodules. For the symbionts, a complex genetic mechanism that allows mutual recognition and plant infection has emerged from genetic studies under axenic conditions. In contrast, little is known about the mechanisms controlling the endophytic infection. Here we investigate the contribution of both the host and the symbiotic microbe to endophyte infection and development of mixed colonised nodules in Lotus japonicus. We found that infection threads initiated by Mesorhizobium loti, the natural symbiont of Lotus, can selectively guide endophytic bacteria towards nodule primordia, where competent strains multiply and colonise the nodule together with the nitrogen-fixing symbiotic partner. Further co-inoculation studies with the competent coloniser, Rhizobium mesosinicum strain KAW12, show that endophytic nodule infection depends on functional and efficient M. loti-driven Nod factor signalling. KAW12 exopolysaccharide (EPS) enabled endophyte nodule infection whilst compatible M. loti EPS restricted it. Analysis of plant mutants that control different stages of the symbiotic infection showed that both symbiont and endophyte accommodation within nodules is under host genetic control. This demonstrates that when legume plants are exposed to complex communities they selectively regulate access and accommodation of bacteria occupying this specialized environmental niche, the root nodule.
Author Summary
Plants have evolved elaborated mechanisms to monitor microbial presence and to control their infection, therefore only particular microbes, so called “endophytes,” are able to colonise the internal tissues with minimal or no host damage. The legume root nodule is a unique environmental niche induced by symbiotic bacteria, but where multiple species, symbiotic and endophytic co-exist. Genetic studies of the binary interaction legume-symbiont led to the discovery of key components evolved in the two partners allowing mutual recognition and nodule infection. In contrast, there is limited knowledge about the endophytic nodule infection, the role of the legume host, or the symbiont in the process of nodule colonisation by endophytes. Here we focus on the early stages of nodule infection in order to identify which molecular signatures and genetic components favour/allow endophyte accommodation, and multiple species co-existence inside nodules. We found that colonisation of Lotus japonicus nodules by endophytic bacteria is a selective process, that endophyte nodule occupancy is host-controlled, and that exopolysaccharides are key bacterial features for chronic infection of nodules. Our strategy based on model legume genetics and co-inoculation can thus be used for identifying mechanisms operating behind host-microbes compatibility in environments where multiple species co-exist.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005280
PMCID: PMC4456278  PMID: 26042417
7.  Molecular mechanisms controlling legume autoregulation of nodulation 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(5):789-795.
Background
High input costs and environmental pressures to reduce nitrogen use in agriculture have increased the competitive advantage of legume crops. The symbiotic relationship that legumes form with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria in root nodules is central to this advantage.
Scope
Understanding how legume plants maintain control of nodulation to balance the nitrogen gains with their energy needs and developmental costs will assist in increasing their productivity and relative advantage. For this reason, the regulation of nodulation has been extensively studied since the first mutants exhibiting increased nodulation were isolated almost three decades ago.
Conclusions
Nodulation is regulated primarily via a systemic mechanism known as the autoregulation of nodulation (AON), which is controlled by a CLAVATA1-like receptor kinase. Multiple components sharing homology with the CLAVATA signalling pathway that maintains control of the shoot apical meristem in arabidopsis have now been identified in AON. This includes the recent identification of several CLE peptides capable of activating nodule inhibition responses, a low molecular weight shoot signal and a role for CLAVATA2 in AON. Efforts are now being focused on directly identifying the interactions of these components and to identify the form that long-distance transport molecules take.
doi:10.1093/aob/mcr205
PMCID: PMC3177682  PMID: 21856632
Legume nodulation; AON; signalling; hormone; plant peptide; receptor kinase; symbiosis
8.  Ethylene insensitivity conferred by a mutated Arabidopsis ethylene receptor gene alters nodulation in transgenic Lotus japonicus 
Annals of Botany  2009;104(2):277-285.
Background and Aims
Transgenics are used to demonstrate a causal relationship between ethylene insensitivity of a seedling legume plant, the level of ethylene receptor gene expression, lateral root growth and Mesorhizobium loti-induced nodule initiation.
Methods
Lotus japonicus plants expressing the dominant etr1-1 allele of the Arabidopsis thaliana gene encoding a well-characterized mutated ethylene receptor were created by stable Agrobacterium tumefaciens transformation. Single insertion, homozygous lines were characterized for symbiotic properties.
Key Results
Transgenic plants were ethylene insensitive as judged by the lack of the ‘Triple Response’, and their continued ability to grow and nodulate in the presence of inhibitory concentrations of ACC (1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylic acid; an ethylene precursor). Transgenic plants with high insensitivity to ACC had significantly fewer lateral roots and exhibited increased nodulation while showing no altered nitrate sensitivity or lack of systemic autoregulation. Whereas ACC-insensitive shoot growth and nodulation were observed in transformants, root growth was inhibited similarly to the wild type. Increased nodulation was caused by increased infection and a seven-fold increase in nodules developing between xylem poles. Bacteroid numbers per symbiosome increased about 1·7-fold in ethylene-insensitive plants.
Conclusions
The study further demonstrates multiple roles for ethylene in nodule initiation by influencing root cell infections and radial positioning, independent of autoregulation and nitrate inhibition of nodulation.
doi:10.1093/aob/mcp132
PMCID: PMC2710892  PMID: 19505874
Ethylene insensitivity; Lotus japonicus; symbiosis; phytohormone; nodulation; signal transduction
9.  Morphological and genetic changes induced by excess Zn in roots of Medicago truncatula A17 and a Zn accumulating mutant 
BMC Research Notes  2012;5:657.
Background
Nutrient fluxes associated with legume-rhizobia symbioses are poorly understood and little is known regarding the influence of abiotic stresses on development and maintenance of N-fixing nodules and root system architecture (RSA). We examined effects of Zn on nodule development and structure, root architecture, and expression of nodulation-related miRNAs in Medicago truncatula and the mutant, raz (requires additional Zn).
Findings
Excess Zn increased root and shoot associated Zn in both genotypes, however, raz plants had lower root associated Zn than WT plants. Roots of raz plants exposed to excess Zn had less volume, surface area, and total length compared to WT plants. Raz plants had lower lateral root number than WT plants. Excess Zn was found to increase root diameter in both genotypes. The Mn Translocation Factor (TfMn) increased in response to Zn in both genotypes; this was more pronounced in raz plants. TfZn was higher in raz plants and reduced in both genotypes in response to Zn. Nodulation was not influenced by Zn treatment or plant genotype. MicroRNA166 was upregulated under excess Zn in WT plants.
Conclusions
Neither the raz mutation nor Zn treatment affected nodulation, however, raz plants had altered RSA compared with WT and responded differently to Zn, implying the mutation potentially modulates RSA responses to Zn but doesn’t play a direct role in nodulation. MicroRNA166 was significantly induced in WT plants by excess Zn, warranting further investigation into the potential role it plays in controlling RSA.
doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-657
PMCID: PMC3599297  PMID: 23191938
Medicago truncatula; Abiotic stress; MicroRNA (miRNA); Zn stress; Translocation factor; QRT-PCR; Legume; Root architecture
10.  Root nodulation of Sesbania rostrata. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1994;176(4):1060-1068.
The tropical legume Sesbania rostrata can be nodulated by Azorhizobium caulinodans on both its stem and its root system. Here we investigate in detail the process of root nodulation and show that nodules develop exclusively at the base of secondary roots. Intercellular infection leads to the formation of infection pockets, which then give rise to infection threads. Concomitantly with infection, cortical cells of the secondary roots dedifferentiate, forming a meristem which has an "open-basket" configuration and which surrounds the initial infection site. Bacteria are released from the tips of infection threads into plant cells via "infection droplets," each containing several bacteria. Initially, nodule differentiation is comparable to that of indeterminate nodules, with the youngest meristematic cells being located at the periphery and the nitrogen-fixing cells being located at the nodule center. Because of the peculiar form of the meristem, Sesbania root nodules develop uniformly around a central axis. Nitrogen fixation is detected as early as 3 days following inoculation, while the nodule meristem is still active. Two weeks after inoculation, meristematic activity ceases, and nodules then show the typical histology of determinate nodules. Thus, root nodule organogenesis in S. rostrata appears to be intermediate between indeterminate and determinate types.
Images
PMCID: PMC205157  PMID: 8106317
11.  Transcription Reprogramming during Root Nodule Development in Medicago truncatula 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(1):e16463.
Many genes which are associated with root nodule development and activity in the model legume Medicago truncatula have been described. However information on precise stages of activation of these genes and their corresponding transcriptional regulators is often lacking. Whether these regulators are shared with other plant developmental programs also remains an open question. Here detailed microarray analyses have been used to study the transcriptome of root nodules induced by either wild type or mutant strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti. In this way we have defined eight major activation patterns in nodules and identified associated potential regulatory genes. We have shown that transcription reprogramming during consecutive stages of nodule differentiation occurs in four major phases, respectively associated with (i) early signalling events and/or bacterial infection; plant cell differentiation that is either (ii) independent or (iii) dependent on bacteroid differentiation; (iv) nitrogen fixation. Differential expression of several genes involved in cytokinin biosynthesis was observed in early symbiotic nodule zones, suggesting that cytokinin levels are actively controlled in this region. Taking advantage of databases recently developed for M. truncatula, we identified a small subset of gene expression regulators that were exclusively or predominantly expressed in nodules, whereas most other regulators were also activated under other conditions, and notably in response to abiotic or biotic stresses. We found evidence suggesting the activation of the jasmonate pathway in both wild type and mutant nodules, thus raising questions about the role of jasmonate during nodule development. Finally, quantitative RT-PCR was used to analyse the expression of a series of nodule regulator and marker genes at early symbiotic stages in roots and allowed us to distinguish several early stages of gene expression activation or repression.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016463
PMCID: PMC3029352  PMID: 21304580
12.  Structure–function analysis of the GmRIC1 signal peptide and CLE domain required for nodulation control in soybean 
Journal of Experimental Botany  2013;64(6):1575-1585.
Legumes control the nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis in response to external and internal stimuli, such as nitrate, and via systemic autoregulation of nodulation (AON). Overexpression of the CLV3/ESR-related (CLE) pre-propeptide-encoding genes GmNIC1 (nitrate-induced and acting locally) and GmRIC1 (Bradyrhizobium-induced and acting systemically) suppresses soybean nodulation dependent on the activity of the nodulation autoregulation receptor kinase (GmNARK). This nodule inhibition response was used to assess the relative importance of key structural components within and around the CLE domain sequences of these genes. Using a site-directed mutagenesis approach, mutants were produced at each amino acid within the CLE domain (RLAPEGPDPHHN) of GmRIC1. This approach identified the Arg1, Ala3, Pro4, Gly6, Pro7, Asp8, His11, and Asn12 residues as critical to GmRIC1 nodulation suppression activity (NSA). In contrast, none of the mutations in conserved residues outside of the CLE domain showed compromised NSA. Chimeric genes derived from combinations of GmRIC1 and GmNIC1 domains were used to determine the role of each pre-propeptide domain in NSA differences that exist between the two peptides. It was found that the transit peptide and CLE peptide regions of GmRIC1 significantly enhanced activity of GmNIC1. In contrast, the comparable GmNIC1 domains reduced the NSA of GmRIC1. Identification of these critical residues and domains provides a better understanding of how these hormone-like peptides function in plant development and regulation.
doi:10.1093/jxb/ert008
PMCID: PMC3617822  PMID: 23386683
Autoregulation of nodulation; CLE peptides; legumes; nodulation; soybean; symbiosis.
13.  Spontaneous symbiotic reprogramming of plant roots triggered by receptor-like kinases 
eLife  2014;3:e03891.
Symbiosis Receptor-like Kinase (SYMRK) is indispensable for the development of phosphate-acquiring arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) as well as nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis, but the mechanisms that discriminate between the two distinct symbiotic developmental fates have been enigmatic. In this study, we show that upon ectopic expression, the receptor-like kinase genes Nod Factor Receptor 1 (NFR1), NFR5, and SYMRK initiate spontaneous nodule organogenesis and nodulation-related gene expression in the absence of rhizobia. Furthermore, overexpressed NFR1 or NFR5 associated with endogenous SYMRK in roots of the legume Lotus japonicus. Epistasis tests revealed that the dominant active SYMRK allele initiates signalling independently of either the NFR1 or NFR5 gene and upstream of a set of genes required for the generation or decoding of calcium-spiking in both symbioses. Only SYMRK but not NFR overexpression triggered the expression of AM-related genes, indicating that the receptors play a key role in the decision between AM- or root nodule symbiosis-development.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.03891.001
eLife digest
Like all plants, crop plants need nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphate to grow. Often these essential elements are in short supply, and so millions of tons of fertiliser are applied to agricultural land each year to maintain crop yields. Another way for plants to gain access to scarce nutrients is to form symbiotic relationships with microorganisms that live in the soil. Plants pass on carbon-containing compounds—such as sugars—to the microbes and, in return, certain fungi provide minerals—such as phosphates—to the plants. Some plants called legumes (such as peas, beans, and clovers) can also form relationships with bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into ammonia, which the plants then use to make molecules such as DNA and proteins.
To establish these symbiotic relationships with plants, nitrogen-fixing bacteria release chemical signals that are recognized via receptor proteins, called NFR1 and NFR5, found on the surface of the plant root cells. These signals trigger a cascade of events that ultimately lead to the plant forming an organ called ‘root nodule’ to house and nourish the nitrogen-fixing bacteria. A similar signalling mechanism is thought to take place during the establishment of symbiotic relationships between plants and certain soil fungi.
A plant protein called Symbiosis Receptor-like Kinase (or SYMRK for short) that is also located on the root cell surface is required for both bacteria–plant and fungi–plant associations to occur. However, the exact role of this protein in these processes was unclear. Ried et al. have now investigated this by taking advantage of a property of cell surface receptor proteins: if some of these proteins are made in excessive amounts they activate their signalling cascades even when the initial signal is not present.
Ried et al. engineered plants called Lotus japonicus to produce high levels of SYMRK, NFR1, or NFR5. Each of these changes was sufficient to trigger the plants to develop root nodules in the absence of microbes. Genes associated with the activation of the signalling cascade involved the formation of root nodules were also switched on when each of the three proteins was produced in large amounts. In contrast, only an excess of SYMRK could activate genes related to fungi–plant associations. Ried et al. also found that, while SYMRK can function in the absence of the NFRs, NFR1 and NFR5 need each other to function. These data suggest that the receptor proteins play a key role in the decision between the establishment of an association with a bacterium or a fungus.
As an excess of symbiotic receptors caused plants to form symbiotic structures, Ried et al. propose that this strategy could be used to persuade plants that usually do not form symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to do so. If this is possible, it might lead us to engineer crop plants to form symbiotic interactions with nitrogen-fixing bacteria; this would help increase crop yields and enable crops to be grown in nitrogen-poor environments without the addition of extra fertiliser.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.03891.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.03891
PMCID: PMC4243133  PMID: 25422918
Lotus japonicus; plant root symbiosis; receptor-like kinases; signal transduction; plant development; gene regulation; other
14.  The potential roles of strigolactones and brassinosteroids in the autoregulation of nodulation pathway 
Annals of Botany  2014;113(6):1037-1045.
Background and Aims
The number of nodules formed on a legume root system is under the strict genetic control of the autoregulation of nodulation (AON) pathway. Plant hormones are thought to play a role in AON; however, the involvement of two hormones recently described as having a largely positive role in nodulation, strigolactones and brassinosteroids, has not been examined in the AON process.
Methods
A genetic approach was used to examine if strigolactones or brassinosteroids interact with the AON system in pea (Pisum sativum). Double mutants between shoot-acting (Psclv2, Psnark) and root-acting (Psrdn1) mutants of the AON pathway and strigolactone-deficient (Psccd8) or brassinosteroid-deficient (lk) mutants were generated and assessed for various aspects of nodulation. Strigolactone production by AON mutant roots was also investigated.
Key Results
Supernodulation of the roots was observed in both brassinosteroid- and strigolactone-deficient AON double-mutant plants. This is despite the fact that the shoots of these plants displayed classic strigolactone-deficient (increased shoot branching) or brassinosteroid-deficient (extreme dwarf) phenotypes. No consistent effect of disruption of the AON pathway on strigolactone production was found, but root-acting Psrdn1 mutants did produce significantly more strigolactones.
Conclusions
No evidence was found that strigolactones or brassinosteroids act downstream of the AON genes examined. While in pea the AON mutants are epistatic to brassinosteroid and strigolactone synthesis genes, we argue that these hormones are likely to act independently of the AON system, having a role in the promotion of nodule formation.
doi:10.1093/aob/mcu030
PMCID: PMC3997646  PMID: 24694828
Autoregulation of nodulation; AON; brassinosteroids; CLAVATA2; NARK; Pisum sativum; RDN1; strigolactones
15.  Secretion systems and signal exchange between nitrogen-fixing rhizobia and legumes 
The formation of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots and/or stem of leguminous plants involves a complex signal exchange between both partners. Since many microorganisms are present in the soil, legumes and rhizobia must recognize and initiate communication with each other to establish symbioses. This results in the formation of nodules. Rhizobia within nodules exchange fixed nitrogen for carbon from the legume. Symbiotic relationships can become non-beneficial if one partner ceases to provide support to the other. As a result, complex signal exchange mechanisms have evolved to ensure continued, beneficial symbioses. Proper recognition and signal exchange is also the basis for host specificity. Nodule formation always provides a fitness benefit to rhizobia, but does not always provide a fitness benefit to legumes. Therefore, legumes have evolved a mechanism to regulate the number of nodules that are formed, this is called autoregulation of nodulation. Sequencing of many different rhizobia have revealed the presence of several secretion systems - and the Type III, Type IV, and Type VI secretion systems are known to be used by pathogens to transport effector proteins. These secretion systems are also known to have an effect on host specificity and are a determinant of overall nodule number on legumes. This review focuses on signal exchange between rhizobia and legumes, particularly focusing on the role of secretion systems involved in nodule formation and host specificity.
doi:10.3389/fpls.2015.00491
PMCID: PMC4486765  PMID: 26191069
rhizobia; nodulation; symbiosis; signal exchange; type III secretion system; type IV secretion system; type VI secretion system; effector proteins
16.  Differentiation of Symbiotic Cells and Endosymbionts in Medicago truncatula Nodulation Are Coupled to Two Transcriptome-Switches 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9519.
The legume plant Medicago truncatula establishes a symbiosis with the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti which takes place in root nodules. The formation of nodules employs a complex developmental program involving organogenesis, specific cellular differentiation of the host cells and the endosymbiotic bacteria, called bacteroids, as well as the specific activation of a large number of plant genes. By using a collection of plant and bacterial mutants inducing non-functional, Fix− nodules, we studied the differentiation processes of the symbiotic partners together with the nodule transcriptome, with the aim of unravelling links between cell differentiation and transcriptome activation. Two waves of transcriptional reprogramming involving the repression and the massive induction of hundreds of genes were observed during wild-type nodule formation. The dominant features of this “nodule-specific transcriptome” were the repression of plant defense-related genes, the transient activation of cell cycle and protein synthesis genes at the early stage of nodule development and the activation of the secretory pathway along with a large number of transmembrane and secretory proteins or peptides throughout organogenesis. The fifteen plant and bacterial mutants that were analyzed fell into four major categories. Members of the first category of mutants formed non-functional nodules although they had differentiated nodule cells and bacteroids. This group passed the two transcriptome switch-points similarly to the wild type. The second category, which formed nodules in which the plant cells were differentiated and infected but the bacteroids did not differentiate, passed the first transcriptome switch but not the second one. Nodules in the third category contained infection threads but were devoid of differentiated symbiotic cells and displayed a root-like transcriptome. Nodules in the fourth category were free of bacteria, devoid of differentiated symbiotic cells and also displayed a root-like transcriptome. A correlation thus exists between the differentiation of symbiotic nodule cells and the first wave of nodule specific gene activation and between differentiation of rhizobia to bacteroids and the second transcriptome wave in nodules. The differentiation of symbiotic cells and of bacteroids may therefore constitute signals for the execution of these transcriptome-switches.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009519
PMCID: PMC2832008  PMID: 20209049
17.  Genome organization and characteristics of soybean microRNAs 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:169.
Background
microRNAs (miRNAs) are key regulators of gene expression and play important roles in many aspects of plant biology. The role(s) of miRNAs in nitrogen-fixing root nodules of leguminous plants such as soybean is not well understood. We examined a library of small RNAs from Bradyrhizobium japonicum-inoculated soybean roots and identified novel miRNAs. In order to enhance our understanding of miRNA evolution, diversification and function, we classified all known soybean miRNAs based on their phylogenetic conservation (conserved, legume- and soybean-specific miRNAs) and examined their genome organization, family characteristics and target diversity. We predicted targets of these miRNAs and experimentally validated several of them. We also examined organ-specific expression of selected miRNAs and their targets.
Results
We identified 120 previously unknown miRNA genes from soybean including 5 novel miRNA families. In the soybean genome, genes encoding miRNAs are primarily intergenic and a small percentage were intragenic or less than 1000 bp from a protein-coding gene, suggesting potential co-regulation between the miRNA and its parent gene. Difference in number and orientation of tandemly duplicated miRNA genes between orthologous genomic loci indicated continuous evolution and diversification. Conserved miRNA families are often larger in size and produce less diverse mature miRNAs than legume- and soybean-specific families. In addition, the majority of conserved and legume-specific miRNA families produce 21 nt long mature miRNAs with distinct nucleotide distribution and regulate a more conserved set of target mRNAs compared to soybean-specific families. A set of nodule-specific target mRNAs and their cognate regulatory miRNAs had inverse expression between root and nodule tissues suggesting that spatial restriction of target gene transcripts by miRNAs might govern nodule-specific gene expression in soybean.
Conclusions
Genome organization of soybean miRNAs suggests that they are actively evolving. Distinct family characteristics of soybean miRNAs suggest continuous diversification of function. Inverse organ-specific expression between selected miRNAs and their targets in the roots and nodules, suggested a potential role for these miRNAs in regulating nodule development.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-169
PMCID: PMC3481472  PMID: 22559273
microRNA; Soybean; Genome organization; Evolution; Nodulation
18.  Functional Analysis of NopM, a Novel E3 Ubiquitin Ligase (NEL) Domain Effector of Rhizobium sp. Strain NGR234 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(5):e1002707.
Type 3 effector proteins secreted via the bacterial type 3 secretion system (T3SS) are not only virulence factors of pathogenic bacteria, but also influence symbiotic interactions between nitrogen-fixing nodule bacteria (rhizobia) and leguminous host plants. In this study, we characterized NopM (nodulation outer protein M) of Rhizobium sp. strain NGR234, which shows sequence similarities with novel E3 ubiquitin ligase (NEL) domain effectors from the human pathogens Shigella flexneri and Salomonella enterica. NopM expressed in Escherichia coli, but not the non-functional mutant protein NopM-C338A, showed E3 ubiquitin ligase activity in vitro. In vivo, NopM, but not inactive NopM-C338A, promoted nodulation of the host plant Lablab purpureus by NGR234. When NopM was expressed in yeast, it inhibited mating pheromone signaling, a mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway. When expressed in the plant Nicotiana benthamiana, NopM inhibited one part of the plant's defense response, as shown by a reduced production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to the flagellin peptide flg22, whereas it stimulated another part, namely the induction of defense genes. In summary, our data indicate the potential for NopM as a functional NEL domain E3 ubiquitin ligase. Our findings that NopM dampened the flg22-induced ROS burst in N. benthamiana but promoted defense gene induction are consistent with the concept that pattern-triggered immunity is split in two separate signaling branches, one leading to ROS production and the other to defense gene induction.
Author Summary
Many Gram-negative bacterial pathogens possess type 3 secretion systems, which deliver effector proteins into eukaryotic host cells through needle-like structures. Effectors manipulate the host cell and many of them suppress host defense responses. Interestingly, certain symbiotic strains of rhizobia also possess such secretion systems. Rhizobia infect legume roots and induce root nodules, where the bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. Here, we characterize the effector NopM of Rhizobium sp. strain NGR234. We demonstrate that NopM possesses E3 ubiquitin ligase activity, indicating that NopM can “tag" proteins with ubiquitin, and thus target them for proteasome-dependent degradation. Using a mutant approach, we demonstrate that enzymatically active NopM promotes establishment of symbiosis with Lablab purpureus, the host plant from which NGR234 was originally isolated. We further examine effects of NopM when directly expressed in eukaryotic cells and show that NopM interferes with specific signaling pathways. NopM expressed in the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana dampened generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are formed in response to the bacterial flagellin peptide flg22. We suggest that NopM promotes nodule initiation by reducing the levels of harmful ROS during the infection process.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002707
PMCID: PMC3355095  PMID: 22615567
19.  Functional Adaptation of a Plant Receptor- Kinase Paved the Way for the Evolution of Intracellular Root Symbioses with Bacteria 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(3):e68.
Nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbioses (RNS) occur in two major forms—Actinorhiza and legume-rhizobium symbiosis—which differ in bacterial partner, intracellular infection pattern, and morphogenesis. The phylogenetic restriction of nodulation to eurosid angiosperms indicates a common and recent evolutionary invention, but the molecular steps involved are still obscure. In legumes, at least seven genes—including the symbiosis receptor-kinase gene SYMRK—are essential for the interaction with rhizobia bacteria and for the Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (AM) symbiosis with phosphate-acquiring fungi, which is widespread in occurrence and believed to date back to the earliest land plants. We show that SYMRK is also required for Actinorhiza symbiosis of the cucurbit Datisca glomerata with actinobacteria of the genus Frankia, revealing a common genetic basis for both forms of RNS. We found that SYMRK exists in at least three different structural versions, of which the shorter forms from rice and tomato are sufficient for AM, but not for functional endosymbiosis with bacteria in the legume Lotus japonicus. Our data support the idea that SYMRK sequence evolution was involved in the recruitment of a pre-existing signalling network from AM, paving the way for the evolution of intracellular root symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Author Summary
As an adaptation to nutrient limitations in terrestrial ecosystems, most plants form Arbuscular Mycorrhiza (AM), which is a symbiotic relationship between phosphate-delivering fungi and plant roots that dates back to the earliest land plants. More recently, a small group including the legumes and close relatives has evolved the ability to accommodate nitrogen-fixing bacteria intracellularly. The resulting symbiosis is manifested by the formation of specialized root organs, the nodules, and comes in two forms: the interaction of legumes with rhizobia, and the more widespread Actinorhiza symbiosis of mostly woody plants with Frankia bacteria. The symbiosis receptor kinase SYMRK acts in a signalling pathway that legume plants require to trigger the development of nodules and the uptake of fungi or bacteria into their root cells. Here we show that the induction of Actinorhiza nodulation also relies on SYMRK, consistent with the idea that both types of nodulation evolved by recruiting common signalling genes from the pre-existing AM program. We observed that SYMRK from different land plant lineages differs significantly in exon composition, with a “full-length” version in the nodulating clade and shorter SYMRK genes in plants outside this lineage. Only the most complete SYMRK version was fully functional in nodulation, suggesting this gene played a central role in the recruitment event associated with the evolution of intracellular root symbioses with bacteria.
Root nodule symbioses with nitrogen-fixing bacteria provide many plants with a source of nitrogen. This study uncovers evidence that changes in the gene SYMRK were involved in the evolution of this important biological innovation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060068
PMCID: PMC2270324  PMID: 18318603
20.  Auxin and nitric oxide control indeterminate nodule formation 
BMC Plant Biology  2007;7:21.
Background
Rhizobia symbionts elicit root nodule formation in leguminous plants. Nodule development requires local accumulation of auxin. Both plants and rhizobia synthesise auxin. We have addressed the effects of bacterial auxin (IAA) on nodulation by using Sinorhizobium meliloti and Rhizobium leguminosarum bacteria genetically engineered for increased auxin synthesis.
Results
IAA-overproducing S. meliloti increased nodulation in Medicago species, whilst the increased auxin synthesis of R. leguminosarum had no effect on nodulation in Phaseolus vulgaris, a legume bearing determinate nodules. Indeterminate legumes (Medicago species) bearing IAA-overproducing nodules showed an enhanced lateral root development, a process known to be regulated by both IAA and nitric oxide (NO). Higher NO levels were detected in indeterminate nodules of Medicago plants formed by the IAA-overproducing rhizobia. The specific NO scavenger cPTIO markedly reduced nodulation induced by wild type and IAA-overproducing strains.
Conclusion
The data hereby presented demonstrate that auxin synthesised by rhizobia and nitric oxide positively affect indeterminate nodule formation and, together with the observation of increased expression of an auxin efflux carrier in roots bearing nodules with higher IAA and NO content, support a model of nodule formation that involves auxin transport regulation and NO synthesis.
doi:10.1186/1471-2229-7-21
PMCID: PMC1878477  PMID: 17488509
21.  Identification of a dominant gene in Medicago truncatula that restricts nodulation by Sinorhizobium meliloti strain Rm41 
BMC Plant Biology  2014;14:167.
Background
Leguminous plants are able to form a root nodule symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria called rhizobia. This symbiotic association shows a high level of specificity. Beyond the specificity for the legume family, individual legume species/genotypes can only interact with certain restricted group of bacterial species or strains. Specificity in this system is regulated by complex signal exchange between the two symbiotic partners and thus multiple genetic mechanisms could be involved in the recognition process. Knowledge of the molecular mechanisms controlling symbiotic specificity could enable genetic improvement of legume nitrogen fixation, and may also reveal the possible mechanisms that restrict root nodule symbiosis in non-legumes.
Results
We screened a core collection of Medicago truncatula genotypes with several strains of Sinorhizobium meliloti and identified a naturally occurring dominant gene that restricts nodulation by S. meliloti Rm41. We named this gene as Mt-NS1 (for M.truncatulanodulation specificity 1). We have mapped the Mt-NS1 locus within a small genomic region on M. truncatula chromosome 8. The data reported here will facilitate positional cloning of the Mt-NS1 gene.
Conclusions
Evolution of symbiosis specificity involves both rhizobial and host genes. From the bacterial side, specificity determinants include Nod factors, surface polysaccharides, and secreted proteins. However, we know relatively less from the host side. We recently demonstrated that a component of this specificity in soybeans is defined by plant NBS-LRR resistance (R) genes that recognize effector proteins delivered by the type III secretion system (T3SS) of the rhizobial symbionts. However, the lack of a T3SS in many sequenced S. meliloti strains raises the question of how the specificity is regulated in the Medicago-Sinorhizobium system beyond Nod-factor perception. Thus, cloning and characterization of Mt-NS1 will add a new dimension to our knowledge about the genetic control of nodulation specificity in the legume-rhizobial symbiosis.
doi:10.1186/1471-2229-14-167
PMCID: PMC4070093  PMID: 24934080
Legume; Medicago truncatula; Nodulation specificity; Nitrogen fixation
22.  Autoregulatory response of Phaseolus vulgaris L. to symbiotic mutants of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli. 
In Rhizobium-legume symbiosis, the plant host controls and optimizes the nodulation process by autoregulation. Tn5 mutants of Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli TAL 182 which are impaired at various stages of symbiotic development, were used to examine autoregulation in the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). Class I mutants were nonnodulating, class II mutants induced small, distinct swellings on the roots, and a class III mutant formed pink, bacterium-containing, but ineffective nodules. A purine mutant (Ade-) was nonnodulating, while a pyrimidine mutant (Ura-) formed small swellings on the roots. Amino acid mutants (Leu-, Phe-, and Cys-) formed mostly empty white nodules. Each of the mutants was used as a primary inoculant on one side of a split-root system to assess its ability to suppress secondary nodulation by the wild type on the other side. All mutants with defects in nodulation ability, regardless of the particular stage of blockage, failed to induce a suppression response from the host. Only the nodulation-competent, bacterium-containing, but ineffective class III mutant induced a suppression response similar to that induced by the wild type. Suppression was correlated with the ability of the microsymbiont to proliferate inside the nodules but not with the ability to initiate nodule formation or the ability to fix nitrogen. Thus, the presence of bacteria inside the nodules may be required for the induction of nodulation suppression in the common bean.
Images
PMCID: PMC183641  PMID: 1768143
23.  Nonlegumes, Legumes, and Root Nodules Harbor Different Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungal Communities 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2004;70(10):6240-6246.
Legumes are an important plant functional group since they can form a tripartite symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria and phosphorus-acquiring arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). However, not much is known about AMF community composition in legumes and their root nodules. In this study, we analyzed the AMF community composition in the roots of three nonlegumes and in the roots and root nodules of three legumes growing in a natural dune grassland. We amplified a portion of the small-subunit ribosomal DNA and analyzed it by using restriction fragment length polymorphism and direct sequencing. We found differences in AMF communities between legumes and nonlegumes and between legume roots and root nodules. Different plant species also contained different AMF communities, with different AMF diversity. One AMF sequence type was much more abundant in legumes than in nonlegumes (39 and 13%, respectively). Root nodules contained characteristic AMF communities that were different from those in legume roots, even though the communities were similar in nodules from different legume species. One AMF sequence type was found almost exclusively in root nodules. Legumes and root nodules have relatively high nitrogen concentrations and high phosphorus demands. Accordingly, the presence of legume- and nodule-related AMF can be explained by the specific nutritional requirements of legumes or by host-specific interactions among legumes, root nodules, and AMF. In summary, we found that AMF communities vary between plant functional groups (legumes and nonlegumes), between plant species, and between parts of a root system (roots and root nodules).
doi:10.1128/AEM.70.10.6240-6246.2004
PMCID: PMC522056  PMID: 15466571
24.  Ectopic expression of miR156 represses nodulation and causes morphological and developmental changes in Lotus japonicus 
Molecular Genetics and Genomics  2014;290(2):471-484.
The effects of microRNA156 overexpression on general plant architecture, branching, flowering time and nodulation were investigated in the model legume, Lotus japonicus. We cloned an miR156 homolog, LjmiR156a, from L. japonicus, and investigated its SQUAMOSA PROMOTER BINDING PROTEIN LIKE (SPL) genes and its biological function at enhancing vegetative biomass yield, extending flowering time, and its impact on nodulation. Thirteen potential targets for LjmiR156 were identified in vitro and their expression profiles were determined in aerial and underground parts of mature plants, including genes coding for eight SPLs, one WD-40, one RNA-directed DNA polymerase, two transport proteins, and one histidine-phosphotransfer protein. Two SPL and one WD-40 cleavage targets for LjmiR156—TC70253, AU089191, and TC57859—were identified. Transgenic plants with ectopic expression of LjmiR156a showed enhanced branching, dramatically delayed flowering, underdeveloped roots, and reduced nodulation. We also examined the transcript levels of key genes involved in nodule organogenesis and infection thread formation to determine the role of miR156 in regulating symbiosis. Overexpression of LjmiR156a led to repression of several nodulation genes during the early stages of root development such as three ENOD genes, SymPK, POLLUX, CYCLOPS, Cerberus, and Nsp1, and the stimulation of NFR1. Our results show that miR156 regulates vegetative biomass yield, flowering time and nodulation by silencing downstream target SPLs and other genes, suggesting that the miR156 regulatory network could be modified in forage legumes (such as alfalfa and trefoils) and in leafy vegetables (like lettuce and spinach) to positively impact economically valuable crop species.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00438-014-0931-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1007/s00438-014-0931-4
PMCID: PMC4361721  PMID: 25293935
miR156; Plant architecture; Nodulation; Flowering; Lotus japonicus
25.  Strigolactone Can Promote or Inhibit Shoot Branching by Triggering Rapid Depletion of the Auxin Efflux Protein PIN1 from the Plasma Membrane 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(1):e1001474.
Shoot branching is regulated by competition between branches to export the phytohormone auxin into the main stem. The phytohormone strigolactone balances shoot system growth by making auxin export harder to establish, thus modulating the auxin transport network.
Plants continuously extend their root and shoot systems through the action of meristems at their growing tips. By regulating which meristems are active, plants adjust their body plans to suit local environmental conditions. The transport network of the phytohormone auxin has been proposed to mediate this systemic growth coordination, due to its self-organising, environmentally sensitive properties. In particular, a positive feedback mechanism termed auxin transport canalization, which establishes auxin flow from active shoot meristems (auxin sources) to the roots (auxin sinks), has been proposed to mediate competition between shoot meristems and to balance shoot and root growth. Here we provide strong support for this hypothesis by demonstrating that a second hormone, strigolactone, regulates growth redistribution in the shoot by rapidly modulating auxin transport. A computational model in which strigolactone action is represented as an increase in the rate of removal of the auxin export protein, PIN1, from the plasma membrane can reproduce both the auxin transport and shoot branching phenotypes observed in various mutant combinations and strigolactone treatments, including the counterintuitive ability of strigolactones either to promote or inhibit shoot branching, depending on the auxin transport status of the plant. Consistent with this predicted mode of action, strigolactone signalling was found to trigger PIN1 depletion from the plasma membrane of xylem parenchyma cells in the stem. This effect could be detected within 10 minutes of strigolactone treatment and was independent of protein synthesis but dependent on clathrin-mediated membrane trafficking. Together these results support the hypothesis that growth across the plant shoot system is balanced by competition between shoot apices for a common auxin transport path to the root and that strigolactones regulate shoot branching by modulating this competition.
Author Summary
Plants can adapt their form to suit the environment in which they are growing. For example, genetically identical plants can develop as a single unbranched stem or as a highly ramified bush. This broad developmental potential is possible because the shoot system is produced continuously by growing tips, known as shoot meristems. Meristems produce the stem and leaves of a shoot, and at the base of each leaf, a new meristem is formed. This meristem can remain dormant as a small bud or activate to produce a branch. Thus, the shoot system is a community of shoot meristems, the combined activity and inactivity of which shape shoot form. Here we provide evidence that growth is balanced across the Arabidopsis shoot system by competition between the shoot meristems. This competition is likely mediated by the requirement of meristems to export the plant hormone auxin in order to activate bud outgrowth. In our model, auxin in the main stem, exported from active branches, can prevent auxin export by dormant buds, thus preventing their activation. Our findings show that a second hormone, strigolactone, increases the level of competition between branches by making auxin export harder to establish. Together, these hormones balance growth across the shoot system, adjusting it according to the environmental conditions in which a plant is growing.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001474
PMCID: PMC3558495  PMID: 23382651

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