Detection and visualization of the major acidic exopolysaccharide of Ralstonia solanacearum and its role in tomato root infection and vascular colonization

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Exopolysaccharides play an important role in the pathogenicity of Ralstonia solanacearum.We compared in vitro and in planta exopolysaccharide production of the pathogenic strain AW1 with that of three related mutant strains impaired in both their exopolysaccharide production and aggressiveness on tomato. The distinction between the two hexosamine-rich exopolysaccharides, namely the N-acetyl-glucosaminorhamnan and the major N-acetyl-galactosamine-containing acidic polymer was emphasized. The major acidic polymer was identified specifically by electron microscopy using glutaraldehyde/ruthenium red/uranyl acetate staining, by immunofluorescence using specific monoclonal antibodies and correlated to an appropriate biochemical analysis. The two mutant strains AW1-1 and AW-19A were totally devoid of any production of the major exopolysaccharide in vitro or in planta whatever the technique used. Infection and vascular colonization of tomato roots by the pathogenic strain were also compared to those of the mutant strains by light microscopy. Pathogenicity on tomato was assessed by root infection without any artificial injury. Light microscopy showed that the two mutant strains AW1-1 and AW-19A were poorly infective and unable to invade xylem vessels, while they induced defence mechanisms in root tissues and appeared aggregated or degenerated within cortical infection pockets. These two mutant strains were non-pathogenic or weakly aggressive, respectively. In contrast, the pathogenic strain AW1 and the hypoaggressive AW1-41 strains, which produce large amounts of the major acidic exopolysaccharide in planta, were both infective and invasive, and tomato root tissues exhibited only limited defence reactions. Thus, the major acidic exopolysaccharide produced by Ralstonia solanacearum is involved in root infection and vascular colonization, though its precise role is still unknown.

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