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Plant Physiol. 2010 Mar;152(3):1705-15. doi: 10.1104/pp.109.148478. Epub 2009 Dec 18.

Glucanases and chitinases as causal agents in the protection of Acacia extrafloral nectar from infestation by phytopathogens.

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Department of General Botany-Plant Ecology, University of Duisburg-Essen, 45117 Essen, Germany.


Nectars are rich in primary metabolites and attract mutualistic animals, which serve as pollinators or as an indirect defense against herbivores. Their chemical composition makes nectars prone to microbial infestation. As protective strategy, floral nectar of ornamental tobacco (Nicotiana langsdorffii x Nicotiana sanderae) contains "nectarins," proteins producing reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide. By contrast, pathogenesis-related (PR) proteins were detected in Acacia extrafloral nectar (EFN), which is secreted in the context of defensive ant-plant mutualisms. We investigated whether these PR proteins protect EFN from phytopathogens. Five sympatric species (Acacia cornigera, A. hindsii, A. collinsii, A. farnesiana, and Prosopis juliflora) were compared that differ in their ant-plant mutualism. EFN of myrmecophytes, which are obligate ant-plants that secrete EFN constitutively to nourish specialized ant inhabitants, significantly inhibited the growth of four out of six tested phytopathogenic microorganisms. By contrast, EFN of nonmyrmecophytes, which is secreted only transiently in response to herbivory, did not exhibit a detectable inhibitory activity. Combining two-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis with nanoflow liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry analysis confirmed that PR proteins represented over 90% of all proteins in myrmecophyte EFN. The inhibition of microbial growth was exerted by the protein fraction, but not the small metabolites of this EFN, and disappeared when nectar was heated. In-gel assays demonstrated the activity of acidic and basic chitinases in all EFNs, whereas glucanases were detected only in EFN of myrmecophytes. Our results demonstrate that PR proteins causally underlie the protection of Acacia EFN from microorganisms and that acidic and basic glucanases likely represent the most important prerequisite in this defensive function.

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