An oomycete effector subverts host vesicle trafficking to channel starvation-induced autophagy to the pathogen interface

Elife. 2021 Aug 23;10:e65285. doi: 10.7554/eLife.65285.


Eukaryotic cells deploy autophagy to eliminate invading microbes. In turn, pathogens have evolved effector proteins to counteract antimicrobial autophagy. How adapted pathogens co-opt autophagy for their own benefit is poorly understood. The Irish famine pathogen Phytophthora infestans secretes the effector protein PexRD54 that selectively activates an unknown plant autophagy pathway that antagonizes antimicrobial autophagy at the pathogen interface. Here, we show that PexRD54 induces autophagosome formation by bridging vesicles decorated by the small GTPase Rab8a with autophagic compartments labeled by the core autophagy protein ATG8CL. Rab8a is required for pathogen-triggered and starvation-induced but not antimicrobial autophagy, revealing specific trafficking pathways underpin selective autophagy. By subverting Rab8a-mediated vesicle trafficking, PexRD54 utilizes lipid droplets to facilitate biogenesis of autophagosomes diverted to pathogen feeding sites. Altogether, we show that PexRD54 mimics starvation-induced autophagy to subvert endomembrane trafficking at the host-pathogen interface, revealing how effectors bridge distinct host compartments to expedite colonization.

Keywords: Phytophthora infestans; autophagy; autophagy inhibition; haustorium; nicotiana benthamiana; plant biology.

Plain Language Summary

With its long filaments reaching deep inside its prey, the tiny fungi-like organism known as Phytophthora infestans has had a disproportionate impact on human history. Latching onto plants and feeding on their cells, it has caused large-scale starvation events such as the Irish or Highland potato famines. Many specialized proteins allow the parasite to accomplish its feat. For instance, PexRD54 helps P. infestans hijack a cellular process known as autophagy. Healthy cells use this ‘self-eating’ mechanism to break down invaders or to recycle their components, for example when they require specific nutrients. The process is set in motion by various pathways of molecular events that result in specific sac-like ‘vesicles’ filled with cargo being transported to specialized compartments for recycling. PexRD54 can take over this mechanism by activating one of the plant autophagy pathways, directing cells to form autophagic vesicles that Phytophthora could then possibly use to feed on or to destroy antimicrobial components. How or why this is the case remains poorly understood. To examine these questions, Pandey, Leary et al. used a combination of genetic and microscopy techniques and tracked how PexRD54 alters autophagy as P. infestans infects a tobacco-related plant. The results show that PexRD54 works by bridging two proteins: one is present on cellular vesicles filled with cargo, and the other on autophagic structures surrounding the parasite. This allows PexRD54 to direct the vesicles to the feeding sites of P. infestans so the parasite can potentially divert nutrients. Pandey, Leary et al. then went on to develop a molecule called the AIM peptide, which could block autophagy by mimicking part of PexRD54. These results help to better grasp how a key disease affects crops, potentially leading to new ways to protect plants without the use of pesticides. They also shed light on autophagy: ultimately, a deeper understanding of this fundamental biological process could allow the development of plants which can adapt to changing environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't