Identification of three MAPKKKs forming a linear signaling pathway leading to programmed cell death in

The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade is an evolutionarily ancient mechanism of signal transduction found in eukaryotic cells. In plants, MAPK cascades are associated with responses to various abiotic and biotic stresses such as plant pathogens.

MAPK cascades function through sequential phosphorylation: MAPK kinase kinases (MAPKKKs) phosphorylate MAPK kinases (MAPKKs), and phosphorylated MAPKKs phosphorylate MAPKs. Of these three types of kinase, the MAPKKKs exhibit the most divergence in the plant genome.

Their great diversity is assumed to allow MAPKKKs to regulate many specific signaling pathways in plants despite the relatively limited number of MAPKKs and MAPKs. Although some plant MAPKKKs, including the MAPKKKalpha of Nicotiana benthamiana (NbMAPKKKalpha), are known to play crucial roles in plant defense responses, the functional relationship among MAPKKK genes is poorly understood.

Here, we performed a comparative functional analysis of MAPKKKs to investigate the signaling pathway leading to the defense response.

Results: We cloned three novel MAPKKK genes from N. benthamiana: NbMAPKKKbeta, NbMAPKKKgamma, and NbMAPKKKepsilon2.

Transient overexpression of full-length NbMAPKKKbeta or NbMAPKKKgamma or their kinase domains in N. benthamiana leaves induced hypersensitive response (HR)-like cell death associated with hydrogen peroxide production.

This activity was dependent on the kinase activity of the overexpressed MAPKKK. In addition, virus-induced silencing of NbMAPKKKbeta or NbMAPKKKgamma expression significantly suppressed the induction of programmed cell death (PCD) by viral infection.

Furthermore, in epistasis analysis of the functional relationships among NbMAPKKKbeta, NbMAPKKKgamma, and NbMAPKKKalpha (previously shown to be involved in plant defense responses) conducted by combining transient overexpression analysis and virus-induced gene silencing, silencing of NbMAPKKKalpha suppressed cell death induced by the overexpression of the NbMAPKKKbeta kinase domain or of NbMAPKKKgamma, but silencing of NbMAPKKKbeta failed to suppress cell death induced by the overexpression of NbMAPKKKalpha or NbMAPKKKgamma. Silencing of NbMAPKKKgamma suppressed celldeath induced by the NbMAPKKKbeta kinase domain but not that induced by NbMAPKKKalpha.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate that in addition to NbMAPKKKalpha, NbMAPKKKbeta and NbMAPKKKgamma also function as positive regulators of PCD.

Furthermore, these three MAPKKKs form a linear signaling pathway leading to PCD; this pathway proceeds from NbMAPKKKbeta to NbMAPKKKgamma to NbMAPKKKalpha.

Published on: 2012-07-09

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