Background: Plant WRKY DNA-binding transcription factors are involved in plant responses to biotic and abiotic responses. It has been previously shown that Arabidopsis WRKY3 and WRKY4, which encode two structurally similar WRKY transcription factors, are induced by pathogen infection and salicylic acid (SA). However, the role of the two WRKY transcription factors in plant disease resistance has not been directly analyzed.
Results: Both WRKY3 and WRKY4 are nuclear-localized and specifically recognize the TTGACC W-box sequences in vitro. Expression of WRKY3 and WRKY4 was induced rapidly by stress conditions generated by liquid infiltration or spraying. Stress-induced expression of WRKY4 was further elevated by pathogen infection and SA treatment. To determine directly their role in plant disease resistance, we have isolated T-DNA insertion mutants and generated transgenic overexpression lines for WRKY3 and WRKY4. Both the loss-of-function mutants and transgenic overexpression lines were examined for responses to the biotrophic bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas syringae and the necrotrophic fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea. The wrky3 and wrky4 single and double mutants exhibited more severe disease symptoms and support higher fungal growth than wild-type plants after Botrytis infection. Although disruption of WRKY3 and WRKY4 did not have a major effect on plant response to P. syringae, overexpression of WRKY4 greatly enhanced plant susceptibility to the bacterial pathogen and suppressed pathogen-induced PR1 gene expression.
Conclusion: The nuclear localization and sequence-specific DNA-binding activity support that WRKY3 and WRKY4 function as transcription factors. Functional analysis based on T-DNA insertion mutants and transgenic overexpression lines indicates that WRKY3 and WRKY4 have a positive role in plant resistance to necrotrophic pathogens and WRKY4 has a negative effect on plant resistance to biotrophic pathogens.