Department of Plant Pathology, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Lincoln 68583-0722, U.S.A.
Colletotrichum trifolii is the fungal pathogen of alfalfa that causes anthracnose disease. For successful plant infection, this fungus must undergo a series of morphological transitions following conidial attachment, including germination and subsequent differentiation, resulting in appressorium formation. Our previous studies with pharmacological effectors of signaling pathways have suggested the involvement of cyclic AMP (cAMP)-dependent protein kinase (PKA) during these processes. To more precisely evaluate the role of PKA in C. trifolii morphogenesis, the gene encoding the catalytic (C) subunit of PKA (Ct-PKAC) was isolated, sequenced, and inactivated by gene replacement. Southern blot analysis with C. trifolii genomic DNA suggested that Ct-PKAC is a single-copy gene. Northern (RNA) blot analysis with total RNA from different fungal growth stages indicated that the expression of this gene was developmentally regulated. When Ct-PKAC was insertionally inactivated by gene replacement, the transformants showed a small reduction in growth relative to the wild type and conidiation patterns were altered. Importantly, PKA-deficient strains were unable to infect intact alfalfa (host) plants, though only a slight delay was observed in the timing for conidial germination and appressorial formation in the Ct-PKAC disruption mutants. Moreover, these mutants were able to colonize host tissues following artificial wounding, resulting in typical anthracnose disease lesions. Coupled with microscopy, these data suggest that the defect in pathogenicity is likely due to a failure in penetration. Our results demonstrate that PKA has an important role in regulating the transition between vegetative growth and conidiation, and is essential for pathogenic development in C. trifolii.