Exopolysaccharides in plant-bacterial interactions

Annu Rev Microbiol. 1992;46:307-46. doi: 10.1146/annurev.mi.46.100192.001515.


Rhizobial plant symbionts and bacterial plant pathogens produce exopolysaccharides that often play essential roles in the plant interaction. Many of these exopolysaccharides are acidic heteropolysaccharides that have repeating subunit structures with carbohydrate and noncarbohydrate substituents, while others are homopolysaccharides such as alginate, levan, cellulose, and glucan. While the homopolysaccharides are synthesized by mechanisms that vary with the particular polysaccharide, the heteropolysaccharides as a rule are synthesized by subunit assembly from nucleotide diphosphate-sugar precursors on a membrane-bound lipid carrier followed by polymerization and secretion. Many mutants in exopolysaccharide synthesis have been isolated, and in several cases this has led to the identification of genes that function in particular steps of biosynthesis, as well as in regulation of exopolysaccharide biosynthesis. The genetic regulation of exopolysaccharide synthesis in many plant pathogens is complex, perhaps reflecting the various niches, free living and in planta, in which exopolysaccharides function. In some cases, exopolysaccharide synthesis is regulated coordinately with other virulence factors, and in other cases separately. Regulatory genes that have homology to the two-component sensor and transcriptional effector systems are a common motif. In Rhizobium species, exopolysaccharide synthesis is regulated by transcriptional as well as posttranslational mechanisms. Exopolysaccharides function differently in the root-nodule symbiosis versus plant pathogenesis. Specific Rhizobium exopolysaccharide structures promote nodule development and invasion in legumes that form indeterminate nodules. In plant pathogenesis, less specific mechanisms of pathogenesis occur: exopolysaccharides cause wilting by blocking xylem vessels, are partly responsible for water-soaked lesions, and may also aid in invasion, growth, and survival in plant tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrate Sequence
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Plants / microbiology*
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / physiology*


  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial