Deciphering the Chitin Code in Plant Symbiosis, Defense, and Microbial Networks

Devanshi Khokhani, Cristobal Carrera Carriel, Shivangi Vayla, Thomas B. Irving, Christina Stonoha-Arther, Nancy P. Keller, Jean Michel Ané

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Chitin is a structural polymer in many eukaryotes. Many organisms can degrade chitin to defend against chitinous pathogens or use chitin oligomers as food. Beneficial microorganisms like nitrogen-fixing symbiotic rhizobia and mycorrhizal fungi produce chitin-based signal molecules called lipo-chitooligosaccharides (LCOs) and short chitin oligomers to initiate a symbiotic relationship with their compatible hosts and exchange nutrients. A recent study revealed that a broad range of fungi produce LCOs and chitooligosaccharides (COs), suggesting that these signaling molecules are not limited to beneficial microbes. The fungal LCOs also affect fungal growth and development, indicating that the roles of LCOs beyond symbiosis and LCO production may predate mycorrhizal symbiosis. This review describes the diverse structures of chitin; their perception by eukaryotes and prokaryotes; and their roles in symbiotic interactions, defense, and microbe-microbe interactions. We also discuss potential strategies of fungi to synthesize LCOs and their roles in fungi with different lifestyles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)583-607
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Microbiology
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NSF grants 1331098, 1753917, and 1546742 to J.-M.A. as well as USDA Hatch grant WIS03041 to J.-M.A. and N.P.K. The NIH training grant 5T32GM007133-46 supported C.C.C., who was also supported by the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship through SciMed Graduate Research Scholars at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Support for this fellowship is provided by the Graduate School, part of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Annual Reviews Inc.. All rights reserved.


  • chitooligosaccharides
  • defense
  • fungi
  • lipo-chitooligosaccharides
  • rhizobia
  • symbiosis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review


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