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J Bacteriol. 2018 Jun 11;200(13). pii: e00665-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00665-17. Print 2018 Jul 1.

Important Late-Stage Symbiotic Role of the Sinorhizobium meliloti Exopolysaccharide Succinoglycan.

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Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Department of Biological Science, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, California, USA.
Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Contributed equally


Sinorhizobium meliloti enters into beneficial symbiotic interactions with Medicago species of legumes. Bacterial exopolysaccharides play critical signaling roles in infection thread initiation and growth during the early stages of root nodule formation. After endocytosis of S. meliloti by plant cells in the developing nodule, plant-derived nodule-specific cysteine-rich (NCR) peptides mediate terminal differentiation of the bacteria into nitrogen-fixing bacteroids. Previous transcriptional studies showed that the intensively studied cationic peptide NCR247 induces expression of the exo genes that encode the proteins required for succinoglycan biosynthesis. In addition, genetic studies have shown that some exo mutants exhibit increased sensitivity to the antimicrobial action of NCR247. Therefore, we investigated whether the symbiotically active S. meliloti exopolysaccharide succinoglycan can protect S. meliloti against the antimicrobial activity of NCR247. We discovered that high-molecular-weight forms of succinoglycan have the ability to protect S. meliloti from the antimicrobial action of the NCR247 peptide but low-molecular-weight forms of wild-type succinoglycan do not. The protective function of high-molecular-weight succinoglycan occurs via direct molecular interactions between anionic succinoglycan and the cationic NCR247 peptide, but this interaction is not chiral. Taken together, our observations suggest that S. meliloti exopolysaccharides not only may be critical during early stages of nodule invasion but also are upregulated at a late stage of symbiosis to protect bacteria against the bactericidal action of cationic NCR peptides. Our findings represent an important step forward in fully understanding the complete set of exopolysaccharide functions during legume symbiosis.IMPORTANCE Symbiotic interactions between rhizobia and legumes are economically important for global food production. The legume symbiosis also is a major part of the global nitrogen cycle and is an ideal model system to study host-microbe interactions. Signaling between legumes and rhizobia is essential to establish symbiosis, and understanding these signals is a major goal in the field. Exopolysaccharides are important in the symbiotic context because they are essential signaling molecules during early-stage symbiosis. In this study, we provide evidence suggesting that the Sinorhizobium meliloti exopolysaccharide succinoglycan also protects the bacteria against the antimicrobial action of essential late-stage symbiosis plant peptides.


antimicrobial activity; exopolysaccharide; symbiosis

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