Strategies in pathogenesis: mechanistic specificity in the detection of generic signals

M. Eugene Duban, Kyunghee Lee, David G. Lynn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The virulence genes of the plant pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens are induced by more than 40 low‐molecular‐weight phenolic compounds. The prevailing opinion is that (i) wound‐derived phenols produced on breach of the integrity of the cell wall act as the initiating signal in a series of events which results in host cell transformation, and (ii) a classical membrane receptor, putatively VirA, is responsible for the recognition of all such phenolic inducers. Here, we argue that the discovery of the subset of inducers that are relatives of the dehydrodiconiferyl alcohol glucoside (DCG) growth factors redirects our attention to work on the plant wound as a site of cell division, and suggests that we further explore the implications of early work on the relationship between transformation efficiency and the status of the cell cycle of the host. In addition, we argue that the significant structural diversity allowed in the para position of the phenol ring of inducers suggests that a receptor–ligand interaction based solely on structural recognition is insufficient, but that recognition followed by a specific proton transfer event may be sufficient to explain vir induction activity. Hence, the specificity of the response of A. tumefaciens may be a consequence of the features required for a chemical reaction to occur on the receptor surface. Finally, we review affinity labelling studies which exploit this phenol detection mechanism and which provide evidence that the phenol receptor may be other than VirA, the sensory kinase of the two component regulatory system implicated in Agrobacterium virulence. Taken together, these hypotheses form a model which has predictive and therefore experimental value, and which may be of broader interest in that it calls attention to the possibility of an intricate co‐evolution of signalling pathways of host and pathogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)637-645
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Microbiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1993


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