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PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(4):e1003287. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1003287. Epub 2013 Apr 11.

Cell death control: the interplay of apoptosis and autophagy in the pathogenicity of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum.

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Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America.


Programmed cell death is characterized by a cascade of tightly controlled events that culminate in the orchestrated death of the cell. In multicellular organisms autophagy and apoptosis are recognized as two principal means by which these genetically determined cell deaths occur. During plant-microbe interactions cell death programs can mediate both resistant and susceptible events. Via oxalic acid (OA), the necrotrophic phytopathogen Sclerotinia sclerotiorum hijacks host pathways and induces cell death in host plant tissue resulting in hallmark apoptotic features in a time and dose dependent manner. OA-deficient mutants are non-pathogenic and trigger a restricted cell death phenotype in the host that unexpectedly exhibits markers associated with the plant hypersensitive response including callose deposition and a pronounced oxidative burst, suggesting the plant can recognize and in this case respond, defensively. The details of this plant directed restrictive cell death associated with OA deficient mutants is the focus of this work. Using a combination of electron and fluorescence microscopy, chemical effectors and reverse genetics, we show that this restricted cell death is autophagic. Inhibition of autophagy rescued the non-pathogenic mutant phenotype. These findings indicate that autophagy is a defense response in this necrotrophic fungus/plant interaction and suggest a novel function associated with OA; namely, the suppression of autophagy. These data suggest that not all cell deaths are equivalent, and though programmed cell death occurs in both situations, the outcome is predicated on who is in control of the cell death machinery. Based on our data, we suggest that it is not cell death per se that dictates the outcome of certain plant-microbe interactions, but the manner by which cell death occurs that is crucial.

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