Erwinia amylovora causes fire blight, a serious disease of apple and pear. The bacterial pathogen colonizes the flower stigma and hypanthium, where it multiplies and then invades through natural openings (nectarthodes). E. amylovora requires nicotinic acid as growth factor, and competition for nicotinic acid is being explored as a novel biocontrol strategy. The ability of E. amylovora to substitute nicotinic acid with analogues or derivates as growth factors has not been investigated yet. Furthermore, the presence and/or variable concentration of nicotinic acid and its analogues/derivates in the hypanthium could be associated with the different susceptibilities to fire blight of hosts and nonhosts and with the differential sensitivity to the disease among apple and pear varieties. Currently, no methods to specifically quantify nicotinic acid and nicotinic acid analogues/derivates in the hypanthium of apple and pear blossoms are available. This study demonstrates that E. amylovora can grow using nicotinamide and 6-hydroxynicotinic acid as alternative growth factors to nicotinic acid, but not using 2-hydroxynicotinic acid. A novel HPLC/ES-MS method was developed for the detection and quantification of nicotinic acid and its analogues/derivates directly in the hypanthium of apple and pear blossoms. Analyses established the presence of nicotinic acid and nicotinamide, whereas no detectable amounts of 6-hydroxynicotinic acid and 2-hydroxynicotinic acid were observed. Mean nicotinic acid content in the pear hypanthium was found to be approximately 2 orders of magnitude higher than in the apple hypanthium, which may contribute to the differential susceptibility of these two host species to fire blight. Contents of nicotinamide were in contrast similar. Nicotinic acid can therefore be considered a relevant factor in the pathogen establishment in pear blossoms, whereas nicotinamide could cover a primary role in apple blossoms.
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