Fungal pathogens: The battle for plant infection

R.B. Ferreira, Sara Alexandra Monteiro, R. Freitas, C.N. Santos, Z. Chen, Luís M. Batista, João C. Duarte, A. Borges, A.R. Teixeira

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57 Citations (Scopus)


The attempted infection of a plant by a pathogen, such as a fungus or an Oomycete, may be regarded as a battle whose major weapons are proteins and smaller chemical compounds produced by both organisms. Indeed, plants produce an astonishing plethora of defense compounds that are still being discovered at a rapid pace. This pattern arose from a multi-million year, ping-pong-type co-evolution, in which plant and pathogen successively added new chemical weapons in this perpetual battle. As each defensive innovation was established in the host, new ways to circumvent it evolved in the pathogen. This complex co-evolution process probably explains not only the exquisite specificity observed between many pathogens and their hosts, but also the ineffectiveness or redundancy of some defensive genes which often encode enzymes with overlapping activities. Plants evolved a complex, multi-level series of structural and chemical barriers that are both constitutive or preformed and inducible. These defenses may involve strengthening of the cell wall, hypersensitive response (HR), oxidative burst, phytoalexins and pathogenesis-related (PR) proteins. The pathogen must successfully overcome these obstacles before it succeeds in causing disease. In some cases, it needs to modulate or modify plant cell metabolism to its own benefit and/or to abolish defense reactions. Central to the activation of plant responses is timely perception of the pathogen by the plant. A crucial role is played by elicitors which, depending on their mode of action, are broadly classified into nonspecific elicitors and highly specific elicitors or virulence effector/avirulence factors. A protein battle for penetration is then initiated, marking the pathogen attempted transition from extracellular to invasive growth before parasitism and disease can be established. Three major types of defense responses may be observed in plants: non-host resistance, host resistance, and host pathogenesis. Plant innate immunity may comprise a continuum from non-host resistance involving the detection of general elicitors to host-specific resistance involving detection of specific elicitors by R proteins. It was generally assumed that non-host resistance was based on passive mechanisms and that nonspecific rejection usually arose as a consequence of the non-host pathogen failure to breach the first lines of plant defense. However, recent evidence has blurred the clear-cut distinction among non-host resistance, host-specific resistance and disease. The same obstacles are also serious challenges for host pathogens, reducing their success rate significantly in causing disease. Indeed, even susceptible plants mount a (insufficient) defense response upon recognition of pathogen elicited molecular signals. Recent evidence suggests the occurrence of significant overlaps between the protein components and signalling pathways of these types of resistance, suggesting the existence of both shared and unique features for the three branches of plant innate immunity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Reviews In Plant Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2006


  • Plant-pathogen interactions
  • Proteins
  • Fungus
  • Host resistance
  • Non-host resistance
  • Oomycete


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