Metabolomic Analysis of Defense-Related Reprogramming in Sorghum bicolor in Response to Colletotrichum sublineolum Infection Reveals a Functional Metabolic Web of Phenylpropanoid and Flavonoid Pathways


The metabolome of a biological system provides a functional readout of the cellular state, thus serving as direct signatures of biochemical events that define the dynamic equilibrium of metabolism and the correlated phenotype. Hence, to elucidate biochemical processes involved in sorghum responses to fungal infection, a liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry-based untargeted metabolomic study was designed. Metabolic alterations of three sorghum cultivars responding to Colletotrichum sublineolum, were investigated. At the 4-leaf growth stage, the plants were inoculated with fungal spore suspensions and the infection monitored over time: 0, 3, 5, 7, and 9 days post inoculation. Non-infected plants were used as negative controls. The metabolite composition of aqueous-methanol extracts were analyzed on an ultra-high performance liquid chromatography system coupled to high-definition mass spectrometry. The acquired multidimensional data were processed to create data matrices for multivariate statistical analysis and chemometric modeling. The computed chemometric models indicated time- and cultivar-related metabolic changes that reflect sorghum responses to the fungal infection. Metabolic pathway and correlation-based network analyses revealed that this multi-component defense response is characterized by a functional metabolic web, containing defense-related molecular cues to counterattack the pathogen invasion. Components of this network are metabolites from a range of interconnected metabolic pathways with the phenylpropanoid and flavonoid pathways being the central hub of the web. One of the key features of this altered metabolism was the accumulation of an array of phenolic compounds, particularly de novo biosynthesis of the antifungal 3-deoxyanthocynidin phytoalexins, apigeninidin, luteolinidin, and related conjugates. The metabolic results were complemented by qRT-PCR gene expression analyses that showed upregulation of defense-related marker genes. Unraveling key characteristics of the biochemical mechanism underlying sorghum—C. sublineolum interactions, provided valuable insights with potential applications in breeding crop plants with enhanced disease resistance. Furthermore, the study contributes to ongoing efforts toward a comprehensive understanding of the regulation and reprogramming of plant metabolism under biotic stress

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