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Oxygenase Coordination Is Required for Morphological Transition and the Host--Fungus Interaction of Aspergillus flavus

July 2009 , Volume 22 , Number  7
Pages  882 - 894

Sigal Horowitz Brown,1 James B. Scott,1 Jeyanthi Bhaheetharan,2 William C. Sharpee,1 Lane Milde,1 Richard A. Wilson,3 and Nancy P. Keller1,2,4

1Department of Plant Pathology and 2Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1550 Linden Dr., Madison 53706-1598, U.S.A.; 3Department of Plant Pathology, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 68588, U.S.A., and 4Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, U.S.A.

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Accepted 28 March 2009.

Oxylipins, a class of oxygenase-derived unsaturated fatty acids, are important signal molecules in many biological systems. Recent characterization of an Aspergillus flavus lipoxygenase gene, lox, revealed its importance in maintaining a density-dependent morphology switch from sclerotia to conidia as population density increased. Here, we present evidence for the involvement of four more oxylipin-generating dioxygenases (PpoA, PpoB, PpoC, and PpoD) in A. flavus density-dependent phenomena and the effects of loss of these genes on aflatoxin production and seed colonization. Although several single mutants showed alterations in the sclerotia-to-conidia switch, the major effect was observed in a strain downregulated for all five oxygenases (invert repeat transgene [IRT] strain IRT4 = ppoA, ppoB, ppoC, ppoD, and lox). In strain IRT4, sclerotia production was increased up to 500-fold whereas conidiation was decreased down to 100-fold and the strain was unable to switch into conidial production. Aflatoxin (AF) production for all mutant strains and the wild type was greatest at low population densities and absent in high populations except for strain IRT4, which consistently produced high levels of the mycotoxin. Growth on host seed by both IRT4 and IRT2 (downregulated in ppoA, ppoB, and ppoD) was marked by decreased conidial but increased AF production. We propose that A. flavus oxygenases and the oxylipins they produce act in a highly interdependent network with some redundancy of biological function. These studies provide substantial evidence for oxylipin-based mechanisms in governing fungus--seed interactions and in regulating a coordinated quorum-sensing mechanism in A. flavus.

© 2009 The American Phytopathological Society