The Arabidopsis NPR1 Protein Is a Receptor for the Plant Defense Hormone Salicylic Acid
Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR) is a type of plant systemic resistance occurring against a broad spectrum of pathogens. It can be activated in response to pathogen infection in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and many agriculturally important crops. Upon SAR activation, the infected plant undergoes transcriptional reprogramming, marked by the induction of a battery of defense genes, including Pathogenesis-related (PR) genes. Activation of the PR-1 gene serves as a molecular marker for the deployment of SAR. The accumulation of a defense hormone, salicylic acid (SA) is crucial for the infected plant to mount SAR. Increased cellular levels of SA lead to the downstream activation of the PR-1 gene, triggered by the combined action of the Non-expressor of Pathogenesis-related Gene 1 (NPR1) protein and the TGA II-clade transcription factor (namely TGA2). Despite the importance of SA, its receptor has remained elusive for decades. In this study, we demonstrated that in Arabidopsis the NPR1 protein is a receptor for SA. SA physically binds to the C-terminal transactivation domain of NPR1. The two cysteines (Cys521 and Cys529), which are important for NPR1’s coactivator function, within this transactivation domain are critical for the binding of SA to NPR1. The interaction between SA and NPR1 requires a transition metal, copper, as a cofactor. Our results also suggested a conformational change in NPR1 upon SA binding, releasing the C-terminal transactivation domain from the N-terminal autoinhibitory BTB/POZ domain. These results advance our understanding of the plant immune function, specifically related to the molecular mechanisms underlying SAR. The discovery of NPR1 as a SA receptor enables future chemical screening for small molecules that activate plant immune responses through their interaction with NPR1 or NPR1-like proteins in commercially important plants. This will help in identifying the next generation of non-biocidal pesticides.