The Structural Integrity of Lignin Is Crucial for Resistance against Striga hermonthica Parasitism in Rice

Striga species are parasitic weeds that seriously constrain the productivity of food staples, including cereals and legumes, in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In eastern and central Africa, Striga spp. infest as much as 40 million hectares of smallholder farmland causing total crop failure during severe infestation. As the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance are yet to be elucidated, we undertook a comparative metabolome study using the Striga-resistant rice (Oryza sativa) cultivar ‘Nipponbare’ and the susceptible cultivar ‘Koshihikari’. We found that a number of metabolites accumulated preferentially in the Striga-resistant cultivar upon Striga hermonthica infection. Most apparent was increased deposition of lignin, a phenylpropanoid polymer mainly composed of p-hydroxyphenyl (H), guaiacyl (G), and syringyl (S) aromatic units, around the site of interaction in Nipponbare. The increased deposition of lignin was accompanied by induction of the expression of corresponding enzyme-encoding genes in the phenylpropanoid pathway. In addition, perturbing normal lignin composition by knocking down or overexpressing the genes that regulate lignin composition, i.e. p-COUMARATE 3-HYDROXYLASE or FERULATE 5-HYDROXYLASE, enhanced susceptibility of Nipponbare to S. hermonthica infection. These results demonstrate that enhanced lignin deposition and maintenance of the structural integrity of lignin polymers deposited at the infection site are crucial for postattachment resistance against S. hermonthica.

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