Molecular Insights in the Susceptible Plant Response to Nematode Infection

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Sedentary endoparasitic nematodes have evolved sophisticated strategies to form permanent feeding sites within host plant roots to ensure their survival. The process of feeding site formation entails an elaborate transformation of normal root cells into enlarged, multinucleate, and metabolically active cell types to supply the nutritional needs of the nematode. The signal-exchange that occurs between nematodes and their hosts to trigger the chain of molecular events associated with feeding cell formation has not been resolved. Presumably, the signals for the induction of feeding cells come from the nematode; thus, secretions originating in the esophageal gland cells and directly injected through the stylet into host tissues during parasitism have been implicated as key molecules. It is evident from the distinct morphological features of feeding sites that the nematode signals likely interfere with fundamental aspects of plant cell biology and differentiation. Molecular studies have shown that these changes are accompanied by extensive alterations in plant gene expression. Researchers have taken advantage of a wide array of methodologies to catalogue the genes as either up- or down-regulated in nematode feeding sites, and technological advances are now enabling feeding cell-specific analyses. As comprehensive profiles of genes expressed in feeding sites are generated, it has become increasingly important to determine which genes play essential roles in their formation. In the future, the true challenge will be to integrate our knowledge of nematode signals with host cell responses to elucidate a complete picture of feeding site formation.