Disruption of sphingolipid biosynthesis in Nicotiana benthamiana activates salicylic acid-dependent responses and compromises resistance to Alternaria alternata f. sp. lycopersici

Planta. 2013 Jan;237(1):121-36. doi: 10.1007/s00425-012-1758-z. Epub 2012 Sep 19.


Sphingolipids play an important role in signal transduction pathways that regulate physiological functions and stress responses in eukaryotes. In plants, recent evidence suggests that their metabolic precursors, the long-chain bases (LCBs) act as bioactive molecules in the immune response. Interestingly, the virulence of two unrelated necrotrophic fungi, Fusarium verticillioides and Alternaria alternata, which are pathogens of maize and tomato plants, respectively, depends on the production of sphinganine-analog mycotoxins (SAMs). These metabolites inhibit de novo synthesis of sphingolipids in their hosts causing accumulation of LCBs, which are key regulators of programmed cell death. Therefore, to gain more insight into the role of sphingolipids in plant immunity against SAM-producing necrotrophic fungi, we disrupted sphingolipid metabolism in Nicotiana benthamiana through virus-induced gene silencing (VIGS) of the serine palmitoyltransfersase (SPT). This enzyme catalyzes the first reaction in LCB synthesis. VIGS of SPT profoundly affected N. benthamiana development as well as LCB composition of sphingolipids. While total levels of phytosphingosine decreased, sphinganine and sphingosine levels increased in SPT-silenced plants, compared with control plants. Plant immunity was also affected as silenced plants accumulated salicylic acid (SA), constitutively expressed the SA-inducible NbPR-1 gene and showed increased susceptibility to the necrotroph A. alternata f. sp. lycopersici. In contrast, expression of NbPR-2 and NbPR-3 genes was delayed in silenced plants upon fungal infection. Our results strongly suggest that LCBs modulate the SA-dependent responses and provide a working model of the potential role of SAMs from necrotrophic fungi to disrupt the plant host response to foster colonization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alternaria / genetics
  • Alternaria / metabolism*
  • Alternaria / physiology
  • Disease Resistance*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Gene Silencing
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mycotoxins / metabolism
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Plant Leaves / genetics
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / microbiology
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / metabolism
  • Plant Viruses / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Salicylic Acid / metabolism*
  • Seedlings / genetics
  • Seedlings / metabolism
  • Seedlings / microbiology
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase / genetics
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase / metabolism
  • Sphingolipids / biosynthesis*
  • Tobacco / genetics
  • Tobacco / metabolism*
  • Tobacco / microbiology
  • Tobacco / virology


  • Mycotoxins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Sphingolipids
  • Serine C-Palmitoyltransferase
  • Salicylic Acid

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AM902524