Maize kernels are susceptible to infection by the opportunistic pathogen Aspergillus flavus. Infection results in reduction of grain quality and contamination of kernels with the highly carcinogenic mycotoxin, aflatoxin. To understanding host response to infection by the fungus, transcription of approximately 9000 maize genes were monitored during the host-pathogen interaction with a custom designed Affymetrix GeneChip® DNA array. More than 4000 maize genes were found differentially expressed at a FDR of 0.05. This included the up regulation of defense related genes and signaling pathways. Transcriptional changes also were observed in primary metabolism genes. Starch biosynthetic genes were down regulated during infection, while genes encoding maize hydrolytic enzymes, presumably involved in the degradation of host reserves, were up regulated. These data indicate that infection of the maize kernel by A. flavus induced metabolic changes in the kernel, including the production of a defense response, as well as a disruption in kernel development.
Aspergillus flavus is an opportunistic fungal pathogen that infects maize kernels pre-harvest, creating major human health concerns and causing substantial agricultural losses. Improved control strategies are needed, yet progress is hampered by the limited understanding of the mechanisms of infection. A series of studies were designed to investigate the localization, morphology and transcriptional profile of A.?flavus during internal seed colonization. Results from these studies indicate that A.?flavus is capable of infecting all tissues of the immature kernel by 96?h after infection. Mycelia were observed in and around the point of inoculation in the endosperm and were found growing down to the germ. At the endosperm-germ interface, hyphae appeared to differentiate and form a biofilm-like structure that surrounded the germ. The exact nature of this structure remains unclear, but is discussed. A custom-designed A.?flavus?Affymetrix GeneChip® microarray was used to monitor genome-wide transcription during pathogenicity. A total of 5061 genes were designated as being differentially expressed. Genes encoding secreted enzymes, transcription factors and secondary metabolite gene clusters were up-regulated and considered to be potential effector molecules responsible for disease in the kernel. Information gained from this study will aid in the development of strategies aimed at preventing or slowing down A.?flavus colonization of the maize kernel.
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).
In Fusarium verticillioides, a ubiquitous pathogen of maize, virulence and mycotoxigenesis are regulated in response to the types and amounts of carbohydrates present in maize kernels. In this study, we investigated the role of a putative hexokinase-encoding gene (HXK1) in growth, development and pathogenesis. A deletion mutant (?hxk1) of HXK1 was not able to grow when supplied with fructose as the sole carbon source, and growth was impaired when glucose, sucrose or maltotriose was provided. Additionally, the ?hxk1 mutant produced unusual swollen hyphae when provided with fructose, but not glucose, as the sole carbon source. Moreover, the ?hxk1 mutant was impaired in fructose uptake, although glucose uptake was unaffected. On maize kernels, the ?hxk1 mutant was substantially less virulent than the wild-type, but virulence on maize stalks was not impaired, possibly indicating a metabolic response to tissue-specific differences in plant carbohydrate content. Finally, disruption of HXK1 had a pronounced effect on fungal metabolites produced during colonization of maize kernels; the ?hxk1 mutant produced approximately 50?% less trehalose and 80?% less fumonisin B? (FB?) than the wild-type. The reduction in trehalose biosynthesis likely explains observations of increased sensitivity to osmotic stress in the ?hxk1 mutant. In summary, this study links early events in carbohydrate sensing and glycolysis to virulence and secondary metabolism in F. verticillioides, and thus provides a new foothold from which the genetic regulatory networks that underlie pathogenesis and mycotoxigenesis can be unravelled and defined.
The putative hexose transporter gene fst1 in Fusarium verticillioides was identified previously by microarray analysis as a gene that was more highly expressed during colonization of autoclaved maize endosperm than germ. In contrast to a previous study, in which disruption of fst1 did not affect growth of the pathogen on autoclaved maize kernels, in the current study, we demonstrated that disruption of fst1 delayed growth and symptom development on wounded maize ears. Characterization of the fst1 promoter revealed that regulation of fst1 expression was similar to that of fumonisin biosynthetic (fum) genes; expression was highest during growth on endosperm tissue and repressed by elevated concentrations of ammonium in the growth medium. With a fluorescent tag attached to FST1, the protein localized transiently to the periphery of the cells near the plasma membrane and in vacuole-like structures, suggesting that membrane-localized FST1 was internalized and degraded in vacuoles. Expression of fst1 in a yeast strain lacking hexose transporter genes did not complement the yeast mutation, suggesting that FST1 does not transport glucose, fructose, or mannose. The results indicate a functional role for FST1 in pathogenesis during the colonization of living kernels.
Aspergillus flavus causes an ear rot of maize, often resulting in the production of aflatoxin, a potent liver toxin and carcinogen that impacts the health of humans and animals. Many aspects of kernel infection and aflatoxin biosynthesis have been studied but the precise effects of the kernel environment on A. flavus are poorly understood. The goal of this research was to study the fungal response to the kernel environment during colonization. Gene transcription in A. flavus was analyzed by microarrays after growth on kernels of the four developmental stages: blister (R2), milk (R3), dough (R4), and dent (R5). Five days after inoculation, total RNA was isolated from kernels and hybridized to Affymetrix Gene Chip arrays containing probes representing 12,834 A. flavus genes. Statistical comparisons of the expression profile data revealed significant differences that included unique sets of upregulated genes in each kernel stage and six patterns of expression over the four stages. Among the genes expressed in colonized dent kernels were a phytase gene and six putative genes involved in zinc acquisition. Disruption of the phytase gene phy1 resulted in reduced growth on medium containing phytate as the sole source of phosphate. Furthermore, growth of the mutant (?phy1) was 20% of the wild-type strain when wound inoculated into maize ears. In contrast, no difference was detected in the amount of aflatoxin produced relative to fungal growth, indicating that phy1 does not affect aflatoxin production. The study revealed the genome-wide effects of immature maize kernels on A. flavus and suggest that phytase has a role in pathogenesis.
Species of Aspergillus produce a diverse array of secondary metabolites, and recent genomic analysis has predicted that these species have the capacity to synthesize many more compounds. It has been possible to infer the presence of 55 gene clusters associated with secondary metabolism in Aspergillus flavus; however, only three metabolic pathways-aflatoxin, cyclopiazonic acid (CPA) and aflatrem-have been assigned to these clusters. To gain an insight into the regulation of and to infer the ecological significance of the 55 secondary metabolite gene clusters predicted in A. flavus, we examined their expression over 28 diverse conditions. Variables included culture medium and temperature, fungal development, colonization of developing maize seeds and misexpression of laeA, a global regulator of secondary metabolism. Hierarchical clustering analysis of expression profiles allowed us to categorize the gene clusters into four distinct clades. Gene clusters for the production of aflatoxins, CPA and seven other unknown compound(s) were identified as belonging to one clade. To further explore the relationships found by gene expression analysis, aflatoxin and CPA production were quantified under five different cell culture environments known to be conducive or nonconducive for aflatoxin biosynthesis and during the colonization of developing maize seeds. Results from these studies showed that secondary metabolism gene clusters have distinctive gene expression profiles. Aflatoxin and CPA were found to have unique regulation, but are sufficiently similar that they would be expected to co-occur in substrates colonized with A. flavus.
Fusarium oxysporum is the causative agent of fungal wilt disease in a variety of crops. The capacity of a fungal pathogen such as F. oxysporum f. sp. nicotianae to establish infection on its tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) host depends in part on its capacity to evade the toxicity of tobacco defense proteins, such as osmotin. Fusarium genes that control resistance to osmotin would therefore reflect coevolutionary pressures and include genes that control mutual recognition, avoidance, and detoxification. We identified FOR (Fusarium Osmotin Resistance) genes on the basis of their ability to confer osmotin resistance to an osmotin-sensitive strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. FOR1 encodes a putative cell wall glycoprotein. FOR2 encodes the structural gene for glutamine:fructose-6-phosphate amidotransferase, the first and rate-limiting step in the biosynthesis of hexosamine and cell wall chitin. FOR3 encodes a homolog of SSD1, which controls cell wall composition, longevity, and virulence in S. cerevisiae. A for3 null mutation increased osmotin sensitivity of conidia and hyphae of F. oxysporum f. sp. nicotianae and also reduced cell wall beta-1,3-glucan content. Together our findings show that conserved fungal genes that determine cell wall properties play a crucial role in regulating fungal susceptibility to the plant defense protein osmotin.
Fusarium species are among the most important phytopathogenic and toxigenic fungi. To understand the molecular underpinnings of pathogenicity in the genus Fusarium, we compared the genomes of three phenotypically diverse species: Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium verticillioides and Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici. Our analysis revealed lineage-specific (LS) genomic regions in F. oxysporum that include four entire chromosomes and account for more than one-quarter of the genome. LS regions are rich in transposons and genes with distinct evolutionary profiles but related to pathogenicity, indicative of horizontal acquisition. Experimentally, we demonstrate the transfer of two LS chromosomes between strains of F. oxysporum, converting a non-pathogenic strain into a pathogen. Transfer of LS chromosomes between otherwise genetically isolated strains explains the polyphyletic origin of host specificity and the emergence of new pathogenic lineages in F. oxysporum. These findings put the evolution of fungal pathogenicity into a new perspective.
Plant pathogenic fungi Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium verticillioides, and Fusarium graminearum infect seeds of the most important food and feed crops, including maize, wheat, and barley. More importantly, these fungi produce aflatoxins, fumonisins, and trichothecenes, respectively, which threaten health and food security worldwide. In this review, we examine the molecular mechanisms and environmental factors that regulate mycotoxin biosynthesis in each fungus, and discuss the similarities and differences in the collective body of knowledge. Whole-genome sequences are available for these fungi, providing reference databases for genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic analyses. It is well recognized that genes responsible for mycotoxin biosynthesis are organized in clusters. However, recent research has documented the intricate transcriptional and epigenetic regulation that affects these gene clusters. Significantly, molecular networks that respond to environmental factors, namely nitrogen, carbon, and pH, are connected to components regulating mycotoxin production. Furthermore, the developmental status of seeds and specific tissue types exert conditional influences during fungal colonization. A comparison of the three distinct mycotoxin groups provides insight into new areas for research collaborations that will lead to innovative strategies to control mycotoxin contamination of grain.
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