Medicago truncatula mtpt4 mutants reveal a role for nitrogen in the regulation of arbuscule degeneration in arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis


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Plants acquire essential mineral nutrients such as phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) directly from the soil, but the majority of the vascular plants also gain access to these mineral nutrients through endosymbiotic associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. In AM symbiosis, the fungi deliver P and N to the root through branched hyphae called arbuscules. Previously we identified MtPT4, a Medicago truncatula phosphate transporter located in the periarbuscular membrane that is essential for symbiotic phosphate transport and for maintenance of the symbiosis. In mtpt4 mutants arbuscule degeneration occurs prematurely and symbiosis fails. Here, we show that premature arbuscule degeneration occurs in mtpt4 mutants even when the fungus has access to carbon from a nurse plant. Thus, carbon limitation is unlikely to be the primary cause of fungal death. Surprisingly, premature arbuscule degeneration is suppressed if mtpt4 mutants are deprived of nitrogen. In mtpt4 mutants with a low N status, arbuscule lifespan does not differ from that of the wild type, colonization of the mtpt4 root system occurs as in the wild type and the fungus completes its life cycle. Sulphur is another essential macronutrient delivered to the plant by the AM fungus; however, suppression of premature arbuscule degeneration does not occur in sulphur-deprived mtpt4 plants. The mtpt4 arbuscule phenotype is strongly correlated with shoot N levels. Analyses of an mtpt4-2 sunn-1 double mutant indicates that SUNN, required for N-mediated autoregulation of nodulation, is not involved. Together, the data reveal an unexpected role for N in the regulation of arbuscule lifespan in AM symbiosis.