Department of Plant Pathology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln 68583-0722 U.S.A.
When certain phytopathogenic fungi contact plant surfaces, specialized infection structures (appressoria) are produced that facilitate penetration of the plant external barrier; the cuticle. Recognition of this hydrophobic host surface must be sensed by the fungus, initiating the appropriate signaling pathway or pathways for pathogenic development. Using polymerase chain reaction and primers designed from mammalian protein kinase C sequences (PKC), we have isolated, cloned, and characterized a protein kinase from Colletotrichum trifolii, causal agent of alfalfa anthracnose. Though sequence analysis indicated conserved sequences in mammalian PKC genes, we were unable to induce activity of the fungal protein using known activators of PKC. Instead, we show that the C. trifolii gene, designated LIPK (lipidinduced protein kinase) is induced specifically by purified plant cutin or long-chain fatty acids which are monomeric constituents of cutin. PKC inhibitors prevented appressorium formation and, to a lesser extent, spore germination. Overexpression of LIPK resulted in multiple, abnormally shaped appressoria. Gene replacement of lipk yielded strains which were unable to develop appressoria and were unable to infect intact host plant tissue. However, these mutants were able to colonize host tissue following artificial wounding, resulting in typical anthracnose lesions. Taken together, these data indicate a central role in triggering infection structure formation for this protein kinase, which is induced specifically by components of the plant cuticle. Thus, the fungus is able to sense and use host surface chemistry to induce a protein kinase-mediated pathway that is required for pathogenic development.