The mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase TaMKK5 mediates immunity via the TaMKK5-TaMPK3-TaERF3 module

Plant Physiol. 2021 Dec 4;187(4):2323-2337. doi: 10.1093/plphys/kiab227.


Sharp eyespot disease, caused by the soil-borne fungus Rhizoctonia cerealis, seriously threatens production of wheat (Triticum aestivum). Despite considerable advances in understanding the mechanisms of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades in innate immunity in model plant species, the roles of MAPK cascades in wheat are unknown. In this study, we identified a wheat MAPK kinase TaMKK5, located on chromosome 6B, and deciphered its functional role in the innate immune responses to R. cerealis attack. The TaMKK5-6B transcript level was elevated after R. cerealis infection and was higher in resistant wheat genotypes compared to susceptible genotypes. Overexpressing TaMKK5-6B increased resistance to sharp eyespot and upregulated the expression of multiple defense-related genes in wheat, including the MAPK gene TaMPK3, the ethylene response factor gene TaERF3, the calcium-dependent protein kinase gene TaCPK7-D, the glutathione s-transferase-1 gene TaGST1, Defensin, and Chitinase 2, while TaMKK5 knock-down compromised the resistance and repressed the expression of these defense-related genes. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation, yeast two-hybrid, pull-down, and phosphorylation assays showed that TaMKK5 physically interacted with TaMPK3, and phosphorylated and activated TaMPK3, and that TaMPK3 interacted with and phosphorylated TaERF3. The TaMKK5-TaMPK3 cascade modulates the expression of TaGST1, Defensin, and Chitinase 2 through TaERF3. Collectively, TaMKK5 mediates resistance to sharp eyespot through the TaMKK5-TaMPK3-TaERF3 module and by upregulating the expression of defense-related genes in wheat. This study provides insights into the role of the wheat MAPK cascades in innate immunity. TaMKK5-6B is a promising gene for breeding wheat cultivars that are resistant to sharp eyespot.