Background: R gene-mediated resistance is one of the most effective mechanisms of immunity against pathogens in plants. To date some components that regulate the primary steps of plant immunity have been isolated, however, the molecular dissection of defense signaling downstream of the R proteins remains to be completed. In addition, R genes are known to be highly variable, however, the molecular mechanisms responsible for this variability remain obscure.
Results: To identify novel factors required for R gene-mediated resistance in rice, we used rice insertional mutant lines, induced by the endogenous retrotransposon Tos17, in a genetic screening involving the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. We inoculated 41,119 mutant lines with the fungus using a high throughput procedure, and identified 86 mutant lines with diminished resistance. A genome analysis revealed that 72 of the 86 lines contained mutations in a gene encoding a nucleotide binding site (NBS) and leucine rich repeat (LRR) domain-containing (NBS-LRR) protein. A genetic complementation analysis and a pathogenesis assay demonstrated that this NBS-LRR gene encodes Pish, which confers resistance against races of M. oryzae containing avrPish. The other 14 lines have intact copies of the Pish gene, suggesting that they may contain mutations in the signaling components downstream of Pish. The genome analysis indicated that Pish and its neighboring three NBS-LRR genes are high similar to one another and are tandemly located. An in silico analysis of a Tos17 flanking sequence database revealed that this region is a "hot spot" for insertion. Intriguingly, the insertion sites are not distributed evenly among these four NBS-LRR genes, despite their similarity at the sequence and expression levels.
Conclusions: In this work we isolated the R gene Pish, and identified several other mutants involved in the signal transduction required for Pish-mediated resistance. These results indicate that our genetic approach is efficient and useful for unveiling novel aspects of defense signaling in rice. Furthermore, our data provide experimental evidence that R gene clusters have the potential to be highly preferred targets for transposable element insertions in plant genomes. Based on this finding, a possible mechanism underlying the high variability of R genes is discussed.