In some filamentous fungi, the pathways related to the oxidative stress and oxylipins production are involved both in the process of host-recognition and in the pathogenic phase. In fact, recent studies have shown that the production of oxylipins in filamentous fungi, yeasts and chromists is also related to the development of the organism itself and to mechanisms of communication with the host at the cellular level. The oxylipins, also produced by the host during defense reactions, are able to induce sporulation and to regulate the biosynthesis of mycotoxins in several pathogenic fungi. In A. flavus, the oxylipins play a crucial role as signals for regulating the biosynthesis of aflatoxins, the conidiogenesis and the formation of sclerotia. To investigate the involvement of an oxylipins based cross-talk into Z. mays and A. flavus interaction, we analyzed the oxylipins profile of the wild type strain and of three mutants of A. flavus that are deleted at the Aflox1 gene level also during maize kernel invasion. A lipidomic approach has been addressed through the use of LC-ToF-MS, followed by a statistical analysis of the principal components (PCA). The results showed the existence of a difference between the oxylipins profile generated by the WT and the mutants onto challenged maize. In relation to this, aflatoxin synthesis which is largely hampered in vitro, is intriguingly restored. These results highlight the important role of maize oxylipin in driving secondary metabolism in A. flavus.
Aspergillus flavus is a cosmopolitan fungus able to respond to external stimuli and to shift both its trophic behaviour and the production of secondary metabolites, including that of the carcinogen aflatoxin (AF). To better understand the adaptability of this fungus, we examined genetic and phenotypic responses within the fungus when grown under four conditions that mimic different ecological niches ranging from saprophytic growth to parasitism. Global transcription changes were observed in both primary and secondary metabolism in response to these conditions, particularly in secondary metabolism where transcription of nearly half of the predicted secondary metabolite clusters changed in response to the trophic states of the fungus. The greatest transcriptional change was found between saprophytic and parasitic growth, which resulted in expression changes in over 800 genes in A. flavus. The fungus also responded to growth conditions, putatively by adaptive changes in conidia, resulting in differences in their ability to utilize carbon sources. We also examined tolerance of A. flavus to oxidative stress and found that growth and secondary metabolism were altered in a superoxide dismutase (sod) mutant and an alkyl-hydroperoxide reductase (ahp) mutant of A. flavus. Data presented in this study show a multifaceted response of A. flavus to its environment and suggest that oxidative stress and secondary metabolism are important in the ecology of this fungus, notably in its interaction with host plant and in relation to changes in its lifestyle (i.e. saprobic to pathogenic).
Mycotoxins are harmful secondary metabolites produced by a range of widespread fungi belonging in the main to Fusarium, Aspergillus and Penicillium genera. But why should fungi produce toxins? And how is the biosynthesis of these toxins regulated? Several separate factors are now known to be capable of modulating mycotoxin synthesis; however, in this study, focussing just on mycotoxins whose regulatory mechanisms have already been established, we introduce a further factor based on a novel consideration. Various different mycotoxin biosynthetic pathways appear to share a common factor in that they are all susceptible to the influence of reactive oxygen species. In fact, when a fungus receives an external stimulus, it reacts by activating, through a well-defined signal cascade, a profound change in its lifestyle. This change usually leads to the activation of global gene regulators and, in particular, of transcription factors which modulate mycotoxin gene cluster expression. Some mycotoxins have a clear-cut role both in generating a pathogenetic process, i.e. fumonisins and some trichothecenes, and in competing with other organisms, i.e. patulin. In other cases, such as aflatoxins, more than one role can be hypothesised. In this review, we suggest an "oxidative stress theory of mycotoxin biosynthesis" to explain the role and the regulation of some of the above mentioned toxins.
In Aspergillus nidulans, Aspergillus flavus, and Aspergillus parasiticus, lipoperoxidative signalling is crucial for the regulation of mycotoxin biosynthesis, conidiogenesis, and sclerotia formation. Resveratrol, which is a lipoxygenase (LOX) and cyclooxygenase inhibitor, downmodulates the biosynthesis of ochratoxin A (OTA) in Aspergillus ochraceus. In the genome of A. ochraceus, a lox-like sequence (AoloxA; National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) accession number: DQ087531) for a lipoxygenase-like enzyme has been found, which presents high homology (100 identities, 100 positives %, score 555) with a lox gene of Aspergillus fumigatus (NCBI accession number: XM741370). To study how inhibition of oxylipins formation may affect the A. ochraceus metabolism, we have used a DeltaAoloxA strain. This mutant displays a different colony morphology, a delayed conidia formation, and a high sclerotia production. When compared to the wild type, the DeltaAoloxA strain showed a lower basal activity of LOX and diminished levels of 13-hydroperoxylinoleic acid (HPODE) and other oxylipins derived from linoleic acid. The limited oxylipins formation corresponded to a remarkable inhibition of OTA biosynthesis in the DeltaAoloxA strain. Also, wheat seeds (Triticum durum cv Ciccio) inoculated with the DeltaAoloxA mutant did not accumulate 9-HPODE, which is a crucial element in the host defence system. Similarly, the expression of the pathogenesis-related protein 1 (PR1) gene in wheat seeds was not enhanced. The results obtained contribute to the current knowledge on the role of lipid peroxidation governed by the AoloxA gene in the morphogenesis, OTA biosynthesis, and in host-pathogen interaction between wheat seeds and A. ochraceus.
Pleurotus eryngii and P. ferulae, two species belonging to the P. eryngii complex, synthesize laccases, ligninolytic enzymes that play a role in the host-pathogen interaction in the first step of infection. Ecological studies have shown that although both fungi have been recognized as saprophytes, P. eryngii weakly pathogenic when colonizing the roots and stems of Eryngium campestre, whereas P. ferulae is mostly pathogenic to Ferula communis. The paper describes the genomic organization of four putative laccase genes (lac1, lac2, lac3, and lac5-like gene; gene names were assigned on the basis of sequence homologies) of P. eryngii and P. ferulae. The mRNA expression and enzymatic activity of the laccases were analysed under culture conditions where a source of lignin (wheat bran) or lyophilized roots of E. campestre or F. communis were present. These experiments indicated that the four lac-like genes were differentially regulated in the two mushrooms. Specifically, the addition of the lyophilized roots of the respective host plant to the culture media induced an advance in the mRNA expression of the four lac-like genes and a seven-fold higher total laccase activity in P. ferulae than in P. eryngii. The results obtained are discussed in relation to the possible role of laccases in the interaction of P. eryngii and P. ferulae with their respective host.
In filamentous fungi, peroxisomes are crucial for the primary metabolism and play a pivotal role in the formation of some secondary metabolites. Further, peroxisomes are important site for fatty acids ?-oxidation, the formation of reactive oxygen species and for their scavenging through a complex of antioxidant activities. Oxidative stress is involved in different metabolic events in all organisms and it occurs during oxidative processes within the cell, including peroxisomal ?-oxidation of fatty acids. In Aspergillus flavus, an unbalance towards an hyper-oxidant status into the cell is a prerequisite for the onset of aflatoxin biosynthesis. In our preliminary results, the use of bezafibrate, inducer of both peroxisomal ?-oxidation and peroxisome proliferation in mammals, significantly enhanced the expression of pex11 and foxA and stimulated aflatoxin synthesis in A. flavus. This suggests the existence of a correlation among peroxisome proliferation, fatty acids ?-oxidation and aflatoxin biosynthesis. To investigate this correlation, A. flavus was transformed with a vector containing P33, a gene from Cymbidium ringspot virus able to induce peroxisome proliferation, under the control of the promoter of the Cu,Zn-sod gene of A. flavus. This transcriptional control closely relates the onset of the antioxidant response to ROS increase, with the proliferation of peroxisomes in A. flavus. The AfP33 transformant strain show an up-regulation of lipid metabolism and an higher content of both intracellular ROS and some oxylipins. The combined presence of a higher amount of substrates (fatty acids-derived), an hyper-oxidant cell environment and of hormone-like signals (oxylipins) enhances the synthesis of aflatoxins in the AfP33 strain. The results obtained demonstrated a close link between peroxisome metabolism and aflatoxin synthesis.
Among the various factors correlated with toxin production in fungi, oxidative stress is a crucial one. In relation to this, an important role is played by oxidative stress-related receptors. These receptors can transduce the "oxidative message" to the nucleus and promote a transcriptional change targeted at restoring the correct redox balance in the cell. In Aspergillus parasiticus, the knockout of the ApyapA gene, a homologue of the yeast Yap-1, disables the funguss capacity to restore the correct redox balance in the cell. As a consequence, the onset of secondary metabolism and aflatoxins synthesis is triggered. Some clues as to the involvement of oxidative stress in the regulation of ochratoxin A (OTA) synthesis in Aspergillus ochraceus have already been provided by the disruption of the oxylipin-producer AoloxA gene. In this paper, we add further evidence that oxidative stress is also involved in the regulation of OTA biosynthesis in A. ochraceus. In fact, the use of certain oxidants and, especially, the deletion of the yap1-homologue Aoyap1 further emphasize the role played by this stress in controlling metabolic and morphological changes in A. ochraceus.
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