Developmentally regulated activation of defense allows for rapid inhibition of infection in age-related resistance to Phytophthora capsici in cucumber fruit

Ben N. Mansfeld, Marivi Colle, Chunqiu Zhang, Ying-Chen Lin, Rebecca Grumet

Background Age-related resistance (ARR) is a developmentally regulated phenomenon conferring resistance to pathogens or pests. Although ARR has been observed in several host-pathogen systems, the underlying mechanisms are largely uncharacterized. In cucumber, rapidly growing fruit are highly susceptible to Phytophthora capsici but become resistant as they complete exponential growth. We previously demonstrated that ARR is associated with the fruit peel and identified gene expression and metabolomic changes potentially functioning as preformed defenses.

Results Here, we compare the response to infection in fruit at resistant and susceptible ages using microscopy, quantitative bioassays, and weighted gene co-expression analyses. We observed strong transcriptional changes unique to resistant aged fruit 2-4 hours post inoculation (hpi). Microscopy and bioassays confirmed this early response, with evidence of pathogen death and infection failure as early as 4 hpi and cessation of pathogen growth by 8-10 hpi. Expression analyses identified candidate genes involved in conferring the rapid response including those encoding transcription factors, hormone signaling pathways, and defenses such as reactive oxygen species metabolism and phenylpropanoid biosynthesis.

Conclusion The early pathogen death and rapid defense response in resistant-aged fruit provide insight into potential mechanisms for ARR, implicating both pre-formed biochemical defenses and developmentally regulated capacity for pathogen recognition as key factors shaping age-related resistance.