The symbiotic infection of the model legume Medicago truncatula by Sinorhizobium meliloti involves marked root hair curling, a stage where entrapment of the microsymbiont occurs in a chamber from which infection thread formation is initiated within the root hair. We have genetically dissected these early symbiotic interactions using both plant and rhizobial mutants and have identified a M. truncatula gene, HCL, which controls root hair curling. S. meliloti Nod factors, which are required for the infection process, induced wild-type epidermal nodulin gene expression and root hair deformation in hcl mutants, while Nod factor induction of cortical cell division foci was reduced compared to wild-type plants. Studies of the position of nuclei and of the microtubule cytoskeleton network of hcl mutants revealed that root hair, as well as cortical cells, were activated in response to S. meliloti. However, the asymmetric microtubule network that is typical of curled root hairs, did not form in the mutants, and activated cortical cells did not become polarised and did not exhibit the microtubular cytoplasmic bridges characteristic of the pre-infection threads induced by rhizobia in M. truncatula. These data suggest that hcl mutations alter the formation of signalling centres that normally provide positional information for the reorganisation of the microtubular cytoskeleton in epidermal and cortical cells.

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