Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) varieties with antibiosis-based resistance to the root-lesion nematode (Pratylenchus penetrans), a migratory endoparasite of many crops, have been developed by recurrent selection. Individual plants from these varieties that support significantly lower nematode reproduction were identified for molecular and biochemical characterization of defense responses. Before nematode infection, RNA blot analysis revealed 1.3-1.8-fold higher phenylpropanoid pathway mRNA levels in roots of three resistant plants as compared to three susceptible alfalfa plants. The mRNAs encoded the first enzyme in the pathway (phenylalanine ammonia-lyase), the first in the pathway branch for flavonoid biosynthesis (chalcone synthase), a key enzyme in medicarpin biosynthesis (isoflavone reductase) and a key enzyme in the pathway branch for biosynthesis of lignin cell wall precursors (caffeic acid O-methyltransferase). After nematode infection, the mRNAs declined over 48 h in resistant roots but rose in susceptible plants during the first 12 h after-infection and then declined. Acidic β-1,3-glucanase mRNA levels were initially similar in both root types but accumulated more rapidly in resistant than in susceptible roots after nematode infection. Levels of a class I chitinase mRNA were similar in both root types. Histone H3.2 mRNA levels, initially 1.3-fold higher in resistant roots, declined over 6-12 h to levels found in susceptible roots and remained stable in both root types thereafter. Defense-response gene transcripts in roots of nematode-resistant and susceptible alfalfa plants thus differed both constitutively and in inductive responses to nematode infection. HPLC analysis of isoflavonoid-derived metabolites of the phenylpropanoid pathway revealed similar total constitutive levels, but varying relative proportions and types, in roots of the resistant and susceptible plants. Nematode infection had no effect on isoflavonoid levels. Constitutive levels of the phytoalexin medicarpin were highest in roots of the two most resistant plants. Medicarpin inhibited motility of P. penetrans in vitro.
- Disease resistance