Department of Plant Pathology, 1453 Fifield Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0680 U.S.A.
The synergistic activities of oxalic acid and endopolygalacturonases are thought to be essential for full virulence of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum and other oxalate-producing plant pathogens. Both oxalic acid production and endopolygalacturonase activity are regulated by ambient pH. Since many gene products with pH-sensitive activities are regulated by the PacC transcription factor in Aspergillus nidulans, we functionally characterized a pacC gene homolog, pac1, from S. sclerotiorum. Mutants with loss-of-function alleles of the pac1 locus were created by targeted gene replacement. In vitro mycelial growth of these pac1 mutants was normal at acidic pH, but growth was inhibited as culture medium pH was increased. Development and maturation of sclerotia in culture was also aberrant in these pac1 replacement mutants. Although oxalic acid production remained alkaline pH-responsive, the kinetics and magnitude of oxalate accumulation were dramatically altered. Additionally, maximal accumulation of endopolygalacturonase gene transcripts (pg1) was shifted to higher ambient pH. Virulence in loss-of-function pac1 mutants was dramatically reduced in infection assays with tomato and Arabidopsis. Based on these results, pac1 appears to be necessary for the appropriate regulation of physiological processes important for pathogenesis and development of S. sclerotiorum.