Open Access Open Badges Research article

The non-specific lipid transfer protein N5 of Medicago truncatula is implicated in epidermal stages of rhizobium-host interaction

Youry Pii1, Barbara Molesini1, Simona Masiero2 and Tiziana Pandolfini1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biotechnology, University of Verona, Strada le Grazie 15, Verona, 37134, Italy

2 Department of Biology, University of Milan, Via Celoria 26, Milan, 20133, Italy

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BMC Plant Biology 2012, 12:233  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-12-233

Published: 7 December 2012



The symbiotic interaction between leguminous plants and rhizobia involves two processes: bacterial infection, resulting in the penetration of bacteria in epidermal and cortical cells, and root nodule organogenesis. Root nodule symbiosis is activated by rhizobial signalling molecules, called Nodulation factors (NFs). NF perception induces the expression of several genes called early nodulins. The early nodulin N5 of Medicago truncatula is a lipid transfer protein that has been shown to positively regulate nodulation although it displays in vitro inhibitory activity against Sinorhizobium meliloti. The purpose of this work was to investigate the role of MtN5 by studying its spatial and temporal pattern of expression during the symbiotic interaction, also in relation to known components of the symbiotic signalling pathway, and by analysing the phenotypic alterations displayed by rhizobia-inoculated MtN5-silenced roots.


We show here that MtN5 is a NF-responsive gene expressed at a very early phase of symbiosis in epidermal cells and root hairs. MtN5 expression is induced in vitro by rhizobial effector molecules and by auxin and cytokinin, phytohormones involved in nodule organogenesis. Furthermore, lipid signaling is implicated in the response of MtN5 to rhizobia, since the activity of phospholipase D is required for MtN5 induction in S. meliloti-inoculated roots. MtN5-silenced roots inoculated with rhizobia display an increased root hair curling and a reduced number of invaded primordia compared to that in wild type roots, but with no impairment to nodule primordia formation. This phenotype is associated with the stimulation of ENOD11 expression, an early marker of infection, and with the down-regulation of Flotillin 4 (FLOT4), a protein involved in rhizobial entry.


These data indicate that MtN5 acts downstream of NF perception and upstream of FLOT4 in regulating pre-infection events. The positive effect of MtN5 on nodule primordia invasion is linked to the restriction of bacterial spread at the epidermal level. Furthermore, MtN5 seems to be dispensable for nodule primordia formation. These findings provide new information about the complex mechanism that controls the competence of root epidermal cells for rhizobial invasion.

Medicago truncatula; MtN5; Symbiosis; Sinorhizobium meliloti; Pre-infection stage; Root hair curling