Potato purple top phytoplasma-induced disruption of gibberellin homeostasis in tomato plants

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Phytoplasmas are phloem-inhabiting, cell wall-less bacteria that cause numerous plant diseases worldwide. Plants infected by phytoplasmas often exhibit various symptoms indicative of hormonal imbalance. In this study, we investigated the effects of potato purple top (PPT) phytoplasma infection on gibberellin homeostasis in tomato plants. We found that PPT phytoplasma infection caused a significant reduction in endogenous levels of gibberellic acid (GA3). The decrease in GA3 content in diseased plants was correlated with down regulation of genes responsible for biosynthesis of bioactive GAs ( GA20ox1and GA3ox1) and genes involved in formation of GA precursors [geranyl diphosphate synthase (GPS) and copalyldiphosphate synthase (CPS)]. Exogenous application of GA3 at 200 μmol L−1 was able to restore the GA content in infected plants to levels comparable to those in healthy controls, and to attenuate the characteristic ‘big bud’ symptoms induced by the phytoplasma. The interesting observation that PPT phytoplasma-infected plants had prolonged low expression of key GA biosynthesis genes GA20ox1and GA3ox1under GA deficiency conditions led us to hypothesise that there was a diminished sensitivity of the GA metabolism feedback regulation, especially GA biosynthesis negative feedback regulation, in those affected plants, and such diminished sensitization in early stages of infection may represent a central element of the phytoplasma-induced disruption of GA homeostasis and pathogenesis.

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