Signaling by small metabolites in systemic acquired resistance



Plants can retain the memory of a prior encounter with a pest. This memory confers upon a plant the ability to subsequently activate defenses more robustly when challenged by a pest. In plants that have retained the memory of a prior, localized, foliar infection by a pathogen, the pathogen-free distal organs develop immunity against subsequent infections by a broad-spectrum of pathogens. The long-term immunity conferred by this mechanism, which is termed systemic acquired resistance (SAR), is inheritable over a few generations. Signaling mediated by the phenolic metabolite salicylic acid (SA) is critical for the manifestation of SAR. Recent studies have described the involvement of additional small metabolites in SAR signaling, including methyl salicylate, the abietane diterpenoid dehydroabietinal, the lysine catabolite pipecolic acid, a glycerol-3-phosphate-dependent factor and the dicarboxylic acid azelaic acid. Many of these metabolites can be systemically transported through the plant and probably facilitate communication by the primary infected tissue with the distal tissues, which is essential for the activation of SAR. Some of these metabolites have been implicated in the SAR-associated rapid activation of defenses in response to subsequent exposure to the pathogen, a mechanism termed priming. Here, we summarize the role of these signaling metabolites in SAR, and the relationship between them and SA signaling in SAR.