Cell-type specificity and herbivore-induced responses of primary and terpene secondary metabolism in Arabidopsis roots
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Plants employ diverse defense mechanisms to combat attack by harmful organisms. For instance, plants produce constitutive physical barriers or use chemical compounds such as specialized secondary metabolites to resist herbivore or pathogen invasion. Considering the cost-efficiency and energy balance between defense, growth and reproduction, defense reactions in plants have to be regulated temporally and spatially. As more cost-efficient strategies, plants may induce their defense response only in the presence of the attacker or restrict constitutive defenses to specific tissues or cells. In this study, we investigated aspects of the spatial regulation and induced changes of primary and secondary metabolism in roots of Arabidopsis thaliana. Roots represent important organs for anchoring plants in the soil and taking up water and nutrients. Hence, it is assumed that roots are as well protected as aerial tissues by different defense mechanisms. The first part of this work is focused on the cell-type-specific biosynthesis of volatile terpenes in Arabidopsis roots. Terpenes are the most abundant specialized metabolites in plants and play an important role in plant defense against pathogens or herbivores. Terpene biosynthetic enzyme activities are often coordinated in specific tissues and cellular compartments. Fine-scale transcriptome maps of Arabidopsis roots have shown that terpene biosynthesis is restricted to particular cell types. However, the reasons and significance of this cell-type specificity are not well understood. We hypothesized that the formation of terpene metabolites is not restricted to specific cells but can be supported by different cell types. We, therefore, probed the plasticity of the cell-specific formation of terpenes by swapping the expression of the terpene synthase (TPS) genes, TPS08, TPS13 and TPS25, between different root cell types in the respective mutant background. To investigate the ectopic expression of TPSs at different levels, quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR), confocal microscopy, and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) were performed. We found that terpene synthase TPS08, which produces the diterpene rhizathalene and is normally expressed in the root vascular tissue, is functionally active when expressed in the epidermis or cortex, although at substantially lower levels compared to the wild type. We did not find an obvious correlation between the volatile emission level and gene transcript level of TPS08, which may be attributed to a reduced activity of the expressed TPS08-yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) fusion protein. When expression of TPS13 (producing the sesquiterpene (Z)-"-bisabolene) was directed from the cortex to the epidermis or stele, TPS13 gene expression and (Z)-"-bisabolene formation was supported by these cell types although to varying levels in comparison to wild type. TPS13-YFP fluorescent signal driven by the epidermal WER and GL3 promoters was primarily detected at the root tip. Terpene production was also observed for the (E)-"-farnesene sesquiterpene synthase TPS25 when its expression was switched from the endodermis and non-hair producing epidermal cells to hair producing epidermal cells although only a weak fluorescent signal was detected from the expressed TPS25-mGFP protein. Together, the results provide preliminary evidence for a relaxed cell specificity of terpene biosynthesis in Arabidopsis roots and suggest that tissue-specific terpene metabolite patterns could change depending on different selective pressures in rhizosphere. In the second part of this study, we performed global gene transcript profiling and primary metabolite analysis of Arabidopsis roots upon feeding by the generalist root herbivore, Bradysia (fungus gnat). In a microarray analysis, we identified 451 of 22,810 genes that were up-regulated more than 2-fold. Gene ontology (GO) analysis showed that 26% of those genes with predicted or known functions play a role in primary or secondary metabolism, while 24% are involved in cell signaling or in responses to stimulating factors, such as jasmonic acid (JA), ethylene, wounding, and oxidative stress. At the metabolite level, we observed only marginal changes of amino acid, sugar and carboxylic acid relative levels over a time course of 4 days of Bradysia feeding. There was a trend for increased levels of amino acids and the relative levels of sucrose were increased significantly ("=0.05) at the fourth day of feeding. In conclusion, the study provided evidence for the induction of genes related to primary and secondary metabolism and stress responses in Arabidopsis roots, but showed only marginal changes at the primary metabolite level. In addition, the work indicated that the formation of terpene-specialized metabolites in Arabidopsis roots is not restricted to specific cells, but can be supported by different cell types.
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