Folivory elicits a strong defense reaction in Catharanthus roseus: metabolomic and transcriptomic analyses reveal distinct local and systemic responses.
Plants deploy distinct secondary metabolisms to cope with environment pressure and to face bio-aggressors notably through the production of biologically active alkaloids. This metabolism-type is particularly elaborated in Catharanthus roseus that synthesizes more than a hundred different monoterpene indole alkaloids (MIAs). While the characterization of their biosynthetic pathway now reaches completion, still little is known about the role of MIAs during biotic attacks. As a consequence, we developed a new plant/herbivore interaction system by challenging C. roseus leaves with Manduca sexta larvae. Transcriptomic and metabolic analyses demonstrated that C. roseus respond to folivory by both local and systemic processes relying on the activation of specific gene sets and biosynthesis of distinct MIAs following jasmonate production. While a huge local accumulation of strictosidine was monitored in attacked leaves that could repel caterpillars through its protein reticulation properties, newly developed leaves displayed an increased biosynthesis of the toxic strictosidine-derived MIAs, vindoline and catharanthine, produced by up-regulation of MIA biosynthetic genes. In this context, leaf consumption resulted in a rapid death of caterpillars that could be linked to the MIA dimerization observed in intestinal tracts. Furthermore, this study also highlights the overall transcriptomic control of the plant defense processes occurring during herbivory.