Departamento de Genética, Universidad de Córdoba, Campus de Rabanales Edificio Gregor Mendel, 14071 Córdoba, Spain
A conserved mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade homologous to the yeast Fus3/Kss1 mating/filamentation pathway regulates virulence in fungal plant pathogens. In the soilborne fungus Fusarium oxysporum, the MAPK Fmk1 is required for infection and development of vascular wilt disease on tomato plants. Knockout mutants lacking Fmk1 are deficient in multiple virulence-related functions, including root adhesion and penetration, invasive growth, secretion of pectinolytic enzymes, and vegetative hyphal fusion. The transcription factors mediating these different outputs downstream of the MAPK cascade are currently unknown. In this study, we have analyzed the role of ste12 which encodes an orthologue of the yeast homeodomain transcription factor Ste12p. F. oxysporum mutants lacking the ste12 gene were impaired in invasive growth on tomato and apple fruit tissue and in penetration of cellophane membranes. However, ste12 was not required for adhesion to tomato roots, secretion of pectinolytic enzymes, and vegetative hyphal fusion, suggesting that these Fmk1-dependent functions are mediated by other downstream MAPK targets. The Δste12 strains displayed dramatically reduced virulence on tomato plants, similar to the Δfmk1 mutant. These results indicate that invasive growth is the major virulence function controlled by the Fmk1 MAPK cascade and depends critically on the transcription factor Ste12.