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Plant Physiol. 2001 Apr;125(4):2189-202.

Molecular interactions between the specialist herbivore Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera, Sphingidae) and its natural host Nicotiana attenuata. IV. Insect-Induced ethylene reduces jasmonate-induced nicotine accumulation by regulating putrescine N-methyltransferase transcripts.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Carl Zeiss Promenade 10, D-07745 Jena, Germany.


Attack by the specialist herbivore, Manduca sexta, on its native host Nicotiana attenuata Torr. ex Wats. produces a dramatic ethylene release, a jasmonate burst, and a suppression of the nicotine accumulation that results from careful simulations of the herbivore's damage. Methyl-jasmonate (MeJA) treatment induces nicotine biosynthesis. However, this induction can be suppressed by ethylene as pretreatment of plants with 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP), a competitive inhibitor of ethylene receptors, restores the full MeJA-induced nicotine response in herbivore attacked plants (J. Kahl, D.H. Siemens, R.J. Aerts, R. Gäbler, F. Kühnemann, C.A. Preston, I.T. Baldwin [2000] Planta 210: 336-342). To understand whether this herbivore-induced signal cross-talk occurs at the level of transcript accumulation, we cloned the putrescine methyltransferase genes (NaPMT1 and NaPMT2) of N. attenuata, which are thought to represent the rate limiting step in nicotine biosynthesis, and measured transcript accumulations by northern analysis after various jasmonate, 1-MCP, ethephon, and herbivory treatments. Transcripts of both root putrescine N-methyltransferase (PMT) genes and nicotine accumulation increased dramatically within 10 h of shoot MeJA treatment and immediately after root treatments. Root ethephon treatments suppressed this response, which could be reversed by 1-MCP pretreatment. Moreover, 1-MCP pretreatment dramatically amplified the transcript accumulation resulting from both wounding and M. sexta herbivory. We conclude that attack from this nicotine-tolerant specialist insect causes N. attenuata to produce ethylene, which directly suppresses the nitrogen-intensive biosynthesis of nicotine.

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