Fungal infection of plants involves degradation of the host cell wall through the action of lytic enzymes secreted by the pathogen. The role of these enzymes in virulence is difficult to determine due to their functional redundancy and, therefore, remains controversial. Here, we have studied XlnR, a zinc-finger transcription factor from the vascular wilt pathogen Fusarium oxysporum that is orthologous to the major transcriptional activator of xylanase genes in Aspergillus spp. Transcription of the xlnR gene was activated by inducing carbon sources such as oat spelt xylan (OSX) and repressed by glucose. Targeted knockout of xlnR in F. oxysporum resulted in lack of transcriptional activation of structural xylanase genes, both in culture and during infection of tomato plants, as well as in dramatically reduced extracellular xylanase activity. By contrast, overexpression of xlnR under the control of the Aspergillus nidulans gpdA promoter did not significantly increase xylanase activity, suggesting that XlnR is regulated not only at the transcriptional but also at the post-translational level. The ΔxlnR mutants were still fully virulent on tomato plants. Thus, XlnR, the major transcriptional activator of xylanase genes, is not an essential virulence determinant in F. oxysporum.
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