MOLECULAR CHARACTERIZATION OF THE INTERACTION BETWEEN HELIANTHUS ANNUUS AND VERTICILLIUM DAHLIAE
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Verticillium wilt, caused by the soil-borne Verticillium dahliae Klebahn is a serious problem in the production of sunflower worldwide. To date, information on sunflower resistance to Verticillium spp. is very scarce, although it is critical for an effective management of this pathogen. In this study, two highly aggressive (Vd1396-9 and Vd1398-21) and two weakly aggressive V. dahliae isolates (Vs06-07 and Vs06-14) were used to inoculate moderately resistant (IS6111) and susceptible (IS8048) sunflower hybrids. VdNEP (V. dahliae necrosis and ethylene-inducing protein), an elicitor from V. dahliae, was also used to infiltrate sunflower plants. Our results indicate that VdNEP has a dual role in the interaction between sunflower and V. dahliae. VdNEP acted not only as a pathogenicity factor on sunflower by inducing wilting symptoms such as chlorosis, necrosis and vascular discoloration, but also as an elicitor triggering defense responses of the host. VdNEP induced the hypersensitive cell death in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves and sunflower cotyledons. Moreover, VdNEP activated the production of reactive oxygen species and the accumulation of fluorescent compounds in sunflower leaves. Pathogenesis-related genes (Ha-PR-3, and Ha-PR-5), two defensin genes (Ha-PDF and Ha-CUA1) and genes encoding Ha-ACO, Ha-CHOX, Ha-GST and Ha-SCO were up-regulated by VdNEP, suggesting that multiple signaling pathways are involved in this interaction. Two SA-related genes (Ha-PAL and Ha-NML1) were slightly suppressed after infiltration with VdNEP, suggesting a possible involvement of VdNEP in affecting sunflower defenses.