What is the molecular basis of nonhost resistance?


Nonhost resistance is typically considered the ability of a plant species to repel all attempts of a pathogen species to colonize it and reproduce on it. Based on this common definition, nonhost resistance is presumed to be very durable and thus of great interest for its potential use in agriculture. Despite considerable research efforts, the molecular basis of this type of plant immunity remains nebulous. We here stress the fact that "nonhost resistance" is a phenomenological rather than a mechanistic concept that comprises more facets than typically considered. We further argue that nonhost resistance essentially relies on the very same genes and pathways as other types of plant immunity, of which some may act as bottlenecks for particular pathogens on a given plant species and/or under certain conditions. The frequently used term "nonhost genes" is thus misleading and should be avoided in our view. Depending on the plant-pathogen combination, nonhost resistance may involve the recognition of pathogen effectors by host immune sensor proteins, which might give rise to host shifts or host range expansions due to evolutionary-conditioned gains and losses in respective armories. The extent of nonhost resistance thus also defines pathogen host ranges. In some instances, immune-related genes can be transferred across plant species to boost defense, resulting in augmented disease resistance. We discuss future routes for deepening our understanding of nonhost resistance and argue that the confusing term "nonhost resistance" should be used more cautiously in the light of a holistic view on plant immunity.