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Mol Plant Pathol. 2004 Mar 1;5(2):125-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1364-3703.2004.00215.x.

Activation of a mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway in Arabidopsis by chitin.

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Department of Plant Microbiology and Pathology, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.


Chitin, a polysaccharide composed of beta-1-->4-linked N-acetyl-d-glucosamine, has been shown or implicated as a signal in plant defence and development. However, the key components of chitin perception and downstream signalling in non-leguminous plants are largely unknown. In recent years, mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) and their cascades were shown to transduce various extracellular stimuli into internal cellular responses. To investigate the possible involvement of MAPKs in chitin signalling in plants, the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana was treated with crab-shell chitin and also with the purified chitin oligomers (degree of polymerization, d.p. = 2-8). Both mRNA levels and kinase activity of two MAPK genes, AtMPK6 and AtMPK3, were monitored after treatment. The mRNA of AtMPK3 was strongly up-regulated by both chitin and its larger oligomers (d.p. = 6-8), but the mRNA of AtMPK6 did not appear to be regulated by these treatments. However, the kinase activity of both MAPKs was induced by chitin and the larger oligomers (d.p. = 6-8), with AtMPK6 much more strongly induced. In addition, WRKY22, WRKY29, WRKY33 and WRKY53, which encode four WRKY transcription factors that recognize TTGAC(C/T) W-box elements in promoters of numerous plant defence-related genes, were up-regulated by these treatments. WRKY33 and WRKY53 expression was induced by the transgenic expression of the tobacco MAPKK NtMEK2 active mutant NtMEK2(DD), suggesting a potential role for these WRKY transcription factors in relaying the signal generated from the MAPK cascade to downstream genes. These data suggest that AtMPK6/AtMPK3 and WRKY transcription factors (such as WRKY33 and WRKY53) may be important components of a pathway involved in chitin signalling in Arabidopsis plants.

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