WRKY transcription factors play important roles in response to diverse environmental stresses, but exact functions of these proteins in poplar defense are still largely unknown. In a previous study, we have shown that poplar WRKY89 is induced by salicylic acid (SA) treatment and plays an important role in resistance against fungi in transgenic poplars. Here, we determined an increase in transcript levels of Group IIa WRKY members in transgenic poplars overexpressing WRKY89 using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction analysis. Yeast one-hybrid assay showed that PtrWRKY18 and PtrWRKY35 were potential target genes of WRKY89. Furthermore, we demonstrated that PtrWRKY18 and PtrWRKY35 were localized in the nucleus, and exhibited no transcription activation activity. Constitutive overexpression of PtrWRKY18 and PtrWRKY35 in poplars activated pathogenesis-related genes, and increased resistance to the biotrophic pathogen Melampsora. The results also provided support for the involvement of SA-mediated signaling in Melampsora resistance.

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