Plant immune responses, including the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), are triggered when pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) become activated upon detection of microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs). Receptor-like cytoplasmic kinases are key components of PRR-dependent signaling pathways. In tomato, two such kinases, Pti1a and Pti1b, are important positive regulators of the plant immune response. However, it is unknown how these kinases control plant immunity at the molecular level and how their activity is regulated. To investigate these issues, we used mass spectrometry to search for interactors of Pti1b in Nicotiana benthamiana leaves and identified a PP2C protein phosphatase, referred to as Pic1. An in vitro pull-down assay and in vivo split-luciferase complementation assay verified this interaction. Pti1b was found to autophosphorylate on threonine-233, and this phosphorylation was abolished in the presence of Pic1. An arginine-to-cysteine substitution at position 240 in the Arabidopsis MARIS kinase was previously reported to convert it into a constitutive-active form. The analogous substitution in Pti1b made it resistant to Pic1 phosphatase activity, although it still interacted with Pic1. Treatment of N. benthamiana leaves with the MAMP flg22 induced threonine phosphorylation of Pti1b. The expression of Pic1, but not a phosphatase-inactive variant of this protein, in N. benthamiana leaves greatly reduced ROS production in response to treatment with MAMPs flg22 or csp22. The results indicate that Pic1 acts as a negative regulator by dephosphorylating the Pti1b kinase, thereby interfering with its ability to activate plant immune responses.

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