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Plant Responses to Bacterial N‑Acyl l‑Homoserine Lactones are Dependent on Enzymatic Degradation to l‑Homoserine

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journal contribution
posted on 17.12.2015 by Andrew G. Palmer, Amanda C. Senechal, Arijit Mukherjee, Jean-Michel Ané, Helen E. Blackwell
Many bacteria use quorum sensing (QS) to regulate phenotypes that ultimately benefit the bacterial population at high cell densities. These QS-dependent phenotypes are diverse and can have significant impacts on the bacterial host, including virulence factor production, motility, biofilm formation, bioluminescence, and root nodulation. As bacteria and their eukaryotic hosts have coevolved over millions of years, it is not surprising that certain hosts appear to be able to sense QS signals, potentially allowing them to alter QS outcomes. Recent experiments have established that eukaryotes have marked responses to the N-acyl l-homoserine lactone (AHL) signals used by Gram-negative bacteria for QS, and the responses of plants to AHLs have received considerable scrutiny to date. However, the molecular mechanisms by which plants, and eukaryotes in general, sense bacterial AHLs remain unclear. Herein, we report a systematic analysis of the responses of the model plants Arabidopsis thaliana and Medicago truncatula to a series of native AHLs and byproducts thereof. Our results establish that AHLs can significantly alter seedling growth in an acyl-chain length dependent manner. Based upon A. thaliana knockout studies and in vitro biochemical assays, we conclude that the observed growth effects are dependent upon AHL amidolysis by a plant-derived fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) to yield l-homoserine. The accumulation of l-homoserine appears to encourage plant growth at low concentrations by stimulating transpiration, while higher concentrations inhibit growth by stimulating ethylene production. These results offer new insights into the mechanisms by which plant hosts can respond to QS signals and the potential role of QS in interkingdom associations.