In the Solanaceae, biotic and abiotic elicitors induce de novo synthesis of sesquiterpenoid stress metabolites known as phytoalexins. Because plant hormones play critical roles in the induction of defense-responsive genes, we have explored the effect of abscisic acid (ABA) on the synthesis of capsidiol, the major wild tobacco (Nicotiana plumbaginifolia) sesquiterpenoid phytoalexin, using wild-type plants versus nonallelic mutants Npaba2 and Npaba1 that are deficient in ABA synthesis. Npaba2 and Npaba1 mutants exhibited a 2-fold higher synthesis of capsidiol than wild-type plants when elicited with either cellulase or arachidonic acid or when infected by Botrytis cinerea. The same trend was observed for the expression of the capsidiol biosynthetic genes 5-epi-aristolochene synthase and 5-epi-aristolochene hydroxylase. Treatment of wild-type plants with fluridone, an inhibitor of the upstream ABA pathway, recapitulated the behavior of Npaba2 and Npaba1 mutants, while the application of exogenous ABA reversed the enhanced synthesis of capsidiol in Npaba2 and Npaba1 mutants. Concomitant with the production of capsidiol, we observed the induction of ABA 8'-hydroxylase in elicited plants. In wild-type plants, the induction of ABA 8'-hydroxylase coincided with a decrease in ABA content and with the accumulation of ABA catabolic products such as phaseic acid and dihydrophaseic acid, suggesting a negative regulation exerted by ABA on capsidiol synthesis. Collectively, our data indicate that ABA is not required per se for the induction of capsidiol synthesis but is essentially implicated in a stress-response checkpoint to fine-tune the amplification of capsidiol synthesis in challenged plants.
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