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We propose a model depicting the development of nodulation and arbuscular mycorrhizae. Both processes are dissected into many steps, using Pisum sativum L. nodulation mutants as a guideline. For nodulation, we distinguish two main developmental programs, one epidermal and one cortical. Whereas Nod factors alone affect the cortical program, bacteria are required to trigger the epidermal events. We propose that the two programs of the rhizobial symbiosis evolved separately and that, over time, they came to function together. The distinction between these two programs does not exist for arbuscular mycorrhizae development despite events occurring in both root tissues. Mutations that affect both symbioses are restricted to the epidermal program. We propose here sites of action and potential roles for ethylene during the formation of the two symbioses with a specific hypothesis for nodule organogenesis. Assuming the epidermis does not make ethylene, the microsymbionts probably first encounter a regulatory level of ethylene at the epidermis–outermost cortical cell layer interface. Depending on the hormone concentrations there, infection will either progress or be blocked. In the former case, ethylene affects the cortex cytoskeleton, allowing reorganization that facilitates infection; in the latter case, ethylene acts on several enzymes that interfere with infection thread growth, causing it to abort. Throughout this review, the difficulty of generalizing the roles of ethylene is emphasized and numerous examples are given to demonstrate the diversity that exists in plants.


This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Botany, 80(7): 694-720. © 2002 National Research Council. Reproduced with permission