Adaptation of the symbiotic Mesorhizobium-chickpea relationship to phosphate deficiency relies on reprogramming of whole-plant metabolism

Maryam Nasr Esfahani, Miyako Kusano, Kien Huu Nguyen, Yasuko Watanabe, Chien Van Ha, Kazuki Saito, Saad Sulieman, Luis Herrera-Estrella, Lam Son Phan Tran

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41 Scopus citations


Low inorganic phosphate (Pi) availability is a major constraint for efficient nitrogen fixation in legumes, including chickpea. To elucidate the mechanisms involved in nodule acclimation to low Pi availability, two Mesorhizobium-chickpea associations exhibiting differential symbiotic performances, Mesorhizobium ciceri CP-31 (McCP-31)-chickpea and Mesorhizobium mediterranum SWRI9 (MmSWRI9)-chickpea, were comprehensively studied under both control and low Pi conditions. MmSWRI9-chickpea showed a lower symbiotic efficiency under low Pi availability than McCP-31-chickpea as evidenced by reduced growth parameters and down-regulation of nifD and nifK. These differences can be attributed to decline in Pi level in MmSWRI9-induced nodules under low Pi stress, which coincided with up-regulation of several key Pi starvation-responsive genes, and accumulation of asparagine in nodules and the levels of identified amino acids in Pi-deficient leaves of MmSWRI9-inoculated plants exceeding the shoot nitrogen requirement during Pi starvation, indicative of nitrogen feedback inhibition. Conversely, Pi levels increased in nodules of Pi-stressed McCP-31-inoculated plants, because these plants evolved various metabolic and biochemical strategies to maintain nodular Pi homeostasis under Pi deficiency. These adaptations involve the activation of alternative pathways of carbon metabolism, enhanced production and exudation of organic acids from roots into the rhizosphere, and the ability to protect nodule metabolism against Pi deficiency-induced oxidative stress. Collectively, the adaptation of symbiotic efficiency under Pi deficiency resulted from highly coordinated processes with an extensive reprogramming of whole-plant metabolism. The findings of this study will enable us to design effective breeding and genetic engineering strategies to enhance symbiotic efficiency in legume crops.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E4610-E4619
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 9 2016


  • Carbon and nitrogen metabolism
  • Metabolomics
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Phosphate deficiency
  • Phosphate homeostasis


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