Transcriptome Profiling of 'Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus' in Citrus and Psyllids

Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus’ (Las) is an emergent bacterial pathogen that is associated with the devastating citrus huanglongbing (HLB). Vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid, Las colonizes the phloem tissue of citrus, causing severe damage to infected trees. So far, cultivating pure Las culture in axenic media has not been successful, and dual-transcriptome analyses aiming to profile gene expression in both Las and its hosts have a low coverage of the Las genome because of the low abundance of bacterial RNA in total RNA extracts from infected tissues. Therefore, a lack of understanding of the Las transcriptome remains a significant knowledge gap. Here, we used a bacterial cell enrichment procedure and confidently determined the expression profiles of approximately 84% of the Las genes. Genes that exhibited high expression in citrus include transporters, ferritin, outer membrane porins, specific pilins, and genes involved in phage-related functions, cell wall modification, and stress responses. We also found 106 genes to be differentially expressed in citrus versus Asian citrus psyllids. Genes related to transcription or translation and resilience to host defense response were upregulated in citrus, whereas genes involved in energy generation and the flagella system were expressed to higher levels in psyllids. Finally, we determined the relative expression levels of potential Sec-dependent effectors, which are considered as key virulence factors of Las. This work advances our understanding of HLB biology and offers novel insight into the interactions of Las with its plant host and insect vector.