Parasite dodder enables transfer of bidirectional systemic nitrogen signals between host plants

Plant Physiol. 2021 Apr 23;185(4):1395-1410. doi: 10.1093/plphys/kiaa004.


Dodder (Cuscuta spp., Convolvulaceae) is a genus of parasitic plants with worldwide distribution. Dodders are able to simultaneously parasitize two or more adjacent hosts, forming dodder-connected plant clusters. Nitrogen (N) deficiency is a common challenge to plants. To date, it has been unclear whether dodder transfers N-systemic signals between hosts grown in N-heterogeneous soil. Transcriptome and methylome analyses were carried out to investigate whether dodder (Cuscuta campestris) transfers N-systemic signals between N-replete and N-depleted cucumber (Cucumis sativus) hosts, and it was found that N-systemic signals from the N-deficient cucumber plants were rapidly translocated through C. campestris to the N-replete cucumber plants. Unexpectedly, certain systemic signals were also transferred from the N-replete to N-depleted cucumber hosts. We demonstrate that these systemic signals are able to regulate large transcriptome and DNA methylome changes in the recipient hosts. Importantly, N stress also induced many long-distance mobile mRNA transfers between C. campestris and hosts, and the bilateral N-systemic signaling between N-replete and N-depleted hosts had a strong impact on the inter-plant mobile mRNAs. Our 15N labeling experiment indicated that under N-heterogeneous conditions, N-systemic signals from the N-deficient cucumber hosts did not obviously change the N-uptake activity of the N-replete cucumber hosts; however, in plant clusters comprising C. campestris-connected cucumber and soybean (Glycine max) plants, if the soybean plants were N-starved, the cucumber plants exhibited increased N-uptake activity. This study reveals that C. campestris facilitates plant-plant communications under N-stress conditions by enabling extensive bilateral N-systemic signaling between different hosts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cuscuta / genetics*
  • Cuscuta / parasitology*
  • Cuscuta / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Plant
  • Genes, Plant
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / genetics*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • PII Nitrogen Regulatory Proteins / genetics
  • PII Nitrogen Regulatory Proteins / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • PII Nitrogen Regulatory Proteins