Cell-to-cell signaling in Xylella fastidiosa suppresses movement and xylem vessel colonization in grape
Cell-to-cell signaling mediated by a fatty acid diffusible signaling factor (DSF) is central to the regulation of the virulence of Xylella fastidiosa. DSF production by X. fastidiosa is dependent on rpfF and, although required for insect colonization, appears to reduce its virulence to grape. To understand what aspects of colonization of grape are controlled by DSF in X. fastidiosa and, thus, those factors that contribute to virulence, we assessed the colonization of grape by a green fluorescent protein-marked rpfF-deficient mutant. The rpfF-deficient mutant was detected at a greater distance from the point of inoculation than the wild-type strain at a given sampling time, and also attained a population size that was up to 100-fold larger than that of the wild-type strain at a given distance from the point of inoculation. Confocal laser-scanning microscopy revealed that approximately 10-fold more vessels in petioles of symptomatic leaves harbored at least some cells of either the wild type or rpfF mutant when compared with asymptomatic leaves and, thus, that disease symptoms were associated with the extent of vessel colonization. Importantly, the rpfF mutant colonized approximately threefold more vessels than the wild-type strain. Although a wide range of colony sizes were observed in vessels colonized by both the wild type and rpfF mutant, the proportion of colonized vessels harboring large numbers of cells was significantly higher in plants inoculated with the rpfF mutant than with the wild-type strain. These studies indicated that the hypervirulence phenotype of the rpfF mutant is due to both a more extensive spread of the pathogen to xylem vessels and unrestrained multiplication within vessels leading to blockage. These results suggest that movement and multiplication of X. fastidiosa in plants are linked, perhaps because cell wall degradation products are a major source of nutrients. Thus, DSF-mediated cell-to-cell signaling, which restricts movement and colonization of X. fastidiosa, may be an adaptation to endophytic growth of the pathogen that prevents the excessive growth of cells in vessels.