University of Hamburg, Biocenter Klein Flottbek, Department of Molecular Phytopathology and Genetics, Ohnhorststr. 18, D-22609 Hamburg, Germany
Fusarium graminearum is a necrotrophic plant pathogen of cereals that produces mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone (ZEA) in grains. The stress-activated mitogen-activated protein kinase FgOS-2 is a central regulator in F. graminearum and controls, among others, virulence and DON and ZEA production. Here, we characterized the ATF/CREB-activating transcription factor FgAtf1, a regulator that functions downstream of FgOS-2. We created deletion and overexpression mutants of Fgatf1, the latter being also in an FgOS-2 deletion mutant. FgAtf1 localizes to the nucleus and appears to interact with FgOS-2 under osmotic stress conditions. Deletion mutants in Fgatf1 (ΔFgatf1) are more sensitive to osmotic stress and less sensitive to oxidative stress compared with the wild type. Furthermore, sexual reproduction is delayed. ΔFgatf1 strains produced higher amounts of DON under in vitro induction conditions than that of the wild type. However, during wheat infection, DON production by ΔFgatf1 is strongly reduced. The ΔFgatf1 strains displayed strongly reduced virulence to wheat and maize. Interestingly, constitutive expression of Fgatf1 in the wild type led to hypervirulence on wheat, maize, and Brachypodium distachyon. Moreover, constitutive expression of Fgatf1 in the ΔFgOS-2 mutant background almost complements ΔFgOS-2-phenotypes. These data suggest that FgAtf1 may be the most important transcription factor regulated by FgOS-2.