Open Access Research article

Identification of putative TAL effector targets of the citrus canker pathogens shows functional convergence underlying disease development and defense response

Andre LA Pereira1, Marcelo F Carazzolle12, Valeria Y Abe1, Maria LP de Oliveira13, Mariane N Domingues1, Jaqueline C Silva1, Raul A Cernadas14 and Celso E Benedetti1*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratório Nacional de Biociências, Centro Nacional de Pesquisa em Energia e Materiais, R. Giuseppe Máximo Scolfaro 10000, Campinas, SP 13083-970, Brazil

2 Departamento de Genética, Evolução e Bioagentes, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, SP 13083-970, Brazil

3 Present address: U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory, 2001 South Rock Road, Fort Pierce, FL 34945, USA

4 Present address: Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:157  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-157

Published: 25 February 2014



Transcriptional activator-like (TAL) effectors, formerly known as the AvrBs3/PthA protein family, are DNA-binding effectors broadly found in Xanthomonas spp. that transactivate host genes upon injection via the bacterial type three-secretion system. Biologically relevant targets of TAL effectors, i.e. host genes whose induction is vital to establish a compatible interaction, have been reported for xanthomonads that colonize rice and pepper; however, citrus genes modulated by the TAL effectors PthA“s” and PthC“s” of the citrus canker bacteria Xanthomonas citri (Xc) and Xanthomonas aurantifolii pathotype C (XaC), respectively, are poorly characterized. Of particular interest, XaC causes canker disease in its host lemon (Citrus aurantifolia), but triggers a defense response in sweet orange.


Based on, 1) the TAL effector-DNA binding code, 2) gene expression data of Xc and XaC-infiltrated sweet orange leaves, and 3) citrus hypocotyls transformed with PthA2, PthA4 or PthC1, we have identified a collection of Citrus sinensis genes potentially targeted by Xc and XaC TAL effectors. Our results suggest that similar with other strains of Xanthomonas TAL effectors, PthA2 and PthA4, and PthC1 to some extent, functionally converge. In particular, towards induction of genes involved in the auxin and gibberellin synthesis and response, cell division, and defense response. We also present evidence indicating that the TAL effectors act as transcriptional repressors and that the best scoring predicted DNA targets of PthA“s” and PthC“s” in citrus promoters predominantly overlap with or localize near to TATA boxes of core promoters, supporting the idea that TAL effectors interact with the host basal transcriptional machinery to recruit the RNA pol II and start transcription.


The identification of PthA“s” and PthC“s” targets, such as the LOB (LATERAL ORGAN BOUNDARY) and CCNBS genes that we report here, is key for the understanding of the canker symptoms development during host susceptibility, or the defenses of sweet orange against the canker bacteria. We have narrowed down candidate targets to a few, which pointed out the host metabolic pathways explored by the pathogens.

TAL effectors; PthA; PthC; Xanthomonas citri; Xanthomonas aurantifolii; Citrus canker; Target genes