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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Pectin modifications promote haustoria development in the parasitic plant Phtheirospermum japonicum

Leso, Martina; Kokla, Anna; Feng, Ming; Melnyk, Charles W.


The parasitic plant Phtheirospermum japonicum modifies the pectin methylesterification status in its haustoria in a dynamic and tissue-specific manner to allow efficient infection of the host plant.Parasitic plants are globally prevalent pathogens with important ecological functions but also potentially devastating agricultural consequences. Common to all parasites is the formation of the haustorium which requires parasite organ development and tissue invasion into the host. Both processes involve cell wall modifications. Here, we investigated a role for pectins during haustorium development in the facultative parasitic plant Phtheirospermum japonicum. Using transcriptomics data from infected Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) and rice (Oryza sativa), we identified genes for multiple P. japonicum pectin methylesterases (PMEs) and their inhibitors (PMEIs) whose expression was upregulated by haustoria formation. Changes in PME and PMEI expression were associated with tissue-specific modifications in pectin methylesterification. While de-methylesterified pectins were present in outer haustorial cells, highly methylesterified pectins were present in inner vascular tissues, including the xylem bridge that connects parasite to host. Specifically blocking xylem bridge formation in the haustoria inhibited several PME and PMEI genes from activating. Similarly, inhibiting PME activity using chemicals or by overexpressing PMEI genes delayed haustoria development. Our results suggest a dynamic and tissue-specific regulation of pectin contributes to haustoria initiation and to the establishment of xylem connections between parasite and host.

Published in

Plant Physiology
2024, Volume: 194, number: 1, pages: 229-242