A plant natriuretic peptide-like gene in the bacterial pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis may induce hyper-hydration in the plant host: A hypothesis of molecular mimicry

Victoria Nembaware, Cathal Seoighe, Muhammed Sayed, Chris Gehring*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Background: Plant natriuretic peptides (PNPs) are systemically mobile molecules that regulate homeostasis at nanomolar concentrations. PNPs are up-regulated under conditions of osmotic stress and PNP-dependent processes include changes in ion transport and increases of H2O uptake into protoplasts and whole tissue. Presentation of the hypothesis: The bacterial citrus pathogen Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. Citri str. 306 contains a gene encoding a PNP-like protein. We hypothesise that this bacterial protein can alter plant cell homeostasis and thus is likely to represent an example of molecular mimicry that enables the pathogen to manipulate plant responses in order to bring about conditions favourable to the pathogen such as the induced plant tissue hyper-hydration seen in the wet edged lesions associated with Xanthomonas axonopodis infection. Testing the hypothesis: We found a Xanthomonas axonopodis PNP-like protein that shares significant sequence similarity and identical domain organisation with PNPs. We also observed a significant excess of conserved residues between the two proteins within the domain previously identified as being sufficient to induce biological activity. Structural modelling predicts identical six stranded double-psi β barrel folds for both proteins thus supporting the hypothesis of similar modes of action. No significant similarity between the Xanthomonas axonopodis protein and other bacterial proteins from GenBank was found. Sequence similarity of the Xanthomonas axonopodis PNP-like protein with the Arabidopsis thaliana PNP (AtPNP-A), shared domain organisation and incongruent phylogeny suggest that the PNP-gene may have been acquired by the bacteria in an ancient lateral gene transfer event. Finally, activity of a recombinant Xanthomonas axonopodis protein in plant tissue and changes in symptoms induced by a Xanthomonas axonopodis mutant with a knocked-out PNP-like gene will be experimental proof of molecular mimicry. Implication of the hypothesis: If the hypothesis is true, it could at least in part explain why the citrus pathogen Xanthomonas campestris that does not contain a PNP-like gene produces dry corky lesions while the closely related Xanthomonas axonopodis forms lesions with wet edges. It also suggests that genes typically found in the host, horizontally transferred or heterologous, can help to explain aspects of the physiology of the host-pathogen interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
StatePublished - Mar 24 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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