Salicylic acid activates DNA damage responses to potentiate plant immunity.
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DNA damage is normally detrimental to living organisms. Here we show that it can also serve as a signal to promote immune responses in plants. We found that the plant immune hormone salicylic acid (SA) can trigger DNA damage in the absence of a genotoxic agent. The DNA damage sensor proteins RAD17 and ATR are required for effective immune responses. These sensor proteins are negatively regulated by a key immune regulator, SNI1 (suppressor of npr1-1, inducible 1), which we found is a subunit of the structural maintenance of chromosome (SMC) 5/6 complex required for controlling DNA damage. Elevated DNA damage caused by the sni1 mutation or treatment with a DNA-damaging agent markedly enhances SA-mediated defense gene expression. Our study suggests that activation of DNA damage responses is an intrinsic component of the plant immune responses.