Does plant immunity play a critical role during initiation of the legume-rhizobium symbiosis?

Front Plant Sci. 2015 Jun 2;6:401. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2015.00401. eCollection 2015.


Plants are exposed to many different microbes in their habitats. These microbes may be benign or pathogenic, but in some cases they are beneficial for the host. The rhizosphere provides an especially rich palette for colonization by beneficial (associative and symbiotic) microorganisms, which raises the question as to how roots can distinguish such 'friends' from possible 'foes' (i.e., pathogens). Plants possess an innate immune system that can recognize pathogens, through an arsenal of protein receptors, including receptor-like kinases (RLKs) and receptor-like proteins (RLPs) located at the plasma membrane. In addition, the plant host has intracellular receptors (so called NBS-LRR proteins or R proteins) that directly or indirectly recognize molecules released by microbes into the plant cell. A successful cooperation between legume plants and rhizobia leads to beneficial symbiotic interaction. The key rhizobial, symbiotic signaling molecules [lipo-chitooligosaccharide Nod factors (NF)] are perceived by the host legume plant using lysin motif-domain containing RLKs. Perception of the symbiotic NFs trigger signaling cascades leading to bacterial infection and accommodation of the symbiont in a newly formed root organ, the nodule, resulting in a nitrogen-fixing root nodule symbiosis. The net result of this symbiosis is the intracellular colonization of the plant with thousands of bacteria; a process that seems to occur in spite of the immune ability of plants to prevent pathogen infection. In this review, we discuss the potential of the invading rhizobial symbiont to actively avoid this innate immune response, as well as specific examples of where the plant immune response may modulate rhizobial infection and host range.

Keywords: legume; lipo-polysaccharides; nod factor; plant immunity; receptor-like kinase; root nodule symbiosis.

Publication types

  • Review