Background: Exposure of Medicago truncatula cell suspension cultures to pathogen or wound signals leads to accumulation of various classes of flavonoid and/or triterpene defense molecules, orchestrated via a complex signalling network in which transcription factors (TFs) are essential components.
Results: In this study, we analyzed TFs responding to yeast elicitor (YE) or methyl jasmonate (MJ). From 502 differentially expressed TFs, WRKY and AP2/EREBP gene families were over-represented among YE-induced genes whereas Basic Helix-Loop-Helix (bHLH) family members were more over-represented among the MJ-induced genes. Jasmonate ZIM-domain (JAZ) transcriptional regulators were highly induced by MJ treatment. To investigate potential involvement of WRKY TFs in signalling, we expressed four Medicago WRKY genes in tobacco. Levels of soluble and wall bound phenolic compounds and lignin were increased in all cases. WRKY W109669 also induced tobacco endo-1,3-beta-glucanase (NtPR2) and enhanced the systemic defense response to tobacco mosaic virus in transgenic tobacco plants.
Conclusion: These results confirm that Medicago WRKY TFs have broad roles in orchestrating metabolic responses to biotic stress, and that they also represent potentially valuable reagents for engineering metabolic changes that impact pathogen resistance.