A gene expression analysis of cell wall biosynthetic genes in Malus × domestica infected by 'Candidatus Phytoplasma mali'
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Apple proliferation (AP) represents a serious threat to several fruit-growing areas and is responsible for great economic losses. Several studies have highlighted the key role played by the cell wall in response to pathogen attack. The existence of a cell wall integrity signaling pathway which senses perturbations in the cell wall architecture upon abiotic/biotic stresses and activates specific defence responses has been widely demonstrated in plants. More recently a role played by cell wall-related genes has also been reported in plants infected by phytoplasmas. With the aim of shedding light on the cell wall response to AP disease in the economically relevant fruit-tree Malus × domestica Borkh., we investigated the expression of the cellulose (CesA) and callose synthase (CalS) genes in different organs (i.e., leaves, roots and branch phloem) of healthy and infected symptomatic outdoor-grown trees, sampled over the course of two time points (i.e., spring and autumn 2011), as well as in in vitro micropropagated control and infected plantlets. A strong up-regulation in the expression of cell wall biosynthetic genes was recorded in roots from infected trees. Secondary cell wall CesAs showed up-regulation in the phloem tissue from branches of infected plants, while either a down-regulation of some genes or no major changes were observed in the leaves. Micropropagated plantlets also showed an increase in cell wall-related genes and constitute a useful system for a general assessment of gene expression analysis upon phytoplasma infection. Finally, we also report the presence of several 'knot'-like structures along the roots of infected apple trees and discuss the occurrence of this interesting phenotype in relation to the gene expression results and the modalities of phytoplasma diffusion. © 2012 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
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