Virulence and inplanta movement of Xanthomonas hortorum pv. pelargonii are affected by the diffusible signal factor (DSF)-dependent quorum sensing system
Xanthomonas hortorum pv. pelargonii (Xhp), the causal agent of bacterial blight in pelargonium, is the most threatening bacterial disease of this ornamental worldwide. To gain an insight into the regulation of virulence in Xhp, we have disrupted the quorum sensing (QS) genes, which mediate the biosynthesis and sensing of the diffusible signal factor (DSF). Mutations in rpfF (encoding the DSF synthase) and rpfC (encoding the histidine sensor kinase of the two-component system RfpC/RpfG) and overexpression of rpfF showed a significant reduction in incidence and severity of the disease on pelargonium. Confocal laser scanning microscopy images of inoculated plants with a green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labelled wild-type strain showed that the pathogen is homogeneously dispersed in the lumen of xylem vessels, reaching the apex and invading the intercellular spaces of the leaf mesophyll tissue within 21days. In contrast, the rpfF and rpfC knockout mutants, as well as the rpfF-overexpressing strain, remained confined to the vicinity of the inoculation site. The rpfF and rpfC mutants formed large incoherent aggregates in the xylem vessels that might interfere with upward movement of the bacterium within the plant. Both mutants also formed extended aggregates under invitro conditions, whereas the wild-type strain formed microcolonies. Expression levels of putative virulence genes inplanta were substantially reduced within 48h after inoculation with the QS mutants when compared with the wild-type. The results presented indicate that an optimal DSF concentration is crucial for successful colonization and virulence of Xhp in pelargonium.