As a response to caterpillar feeding, poplar releases a complex mixture of volatiles which comprises several classes of compounds. Poplar volatiles have been reported to function as signals in plant-insect interactions and intra- and inter-plant communication. Although the volatile blend is dominated by mono- and sesquiterpenes, there is much to be learned about their formation in poplar. Here we report the terpene synthase (TPS) gene family of western balsam poplar (Populus trichocarpa) consisting of 38 members. Eleven TPS genes (PtTPS5-15) could be isolated from gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar)-damaged P. trichocarpa leaves and heterologous expression in Escherichia coli revealed TPS activity for ten of the encoded enzymes. Analysis of TPS transcript abundance in herbivore-damaged leaves and undamaged control leaves showed that seven of the genes, PtTPS6, PtTPS7, PtTPS9, PtTPS10, PtTPS12, PtTPS13 and PtTPS15, were significantly upregulated after herbivory. Gypsy moth-feeding on individual leaves of P. trichocarpa trees resulted in induced volatile emission from damaged leaves, but not from undamaged adjacent leaves. Moreover, the concentration of jasmonic acid and its isoleucine conjugates as well as PtTPS6 gene expression were exclusively increased in the damaged leaves, suggesting that no systemic induction occurred within the tree. Our data indicate that the formation of herbivore-induced volatile terpenes in P. trichocarpa is mainly regulated by transcript accumulation of multiple TPS genes and is likely mediated by jasmonates. The specific local emission of volatiles from herbivore-damaged leaves might help herbivore enemies to find their hosts or prey in the tree canopy.
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