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Evidence for Functional Diversification Within a Fungal NEP1-Like Protein Family

March 2013 , Volume 26 , Number  3
Pages  278 - 286

Parthasarathy Santhanam,1 H. Peter van Esse,1 Isabell Albert,2 Luigi Faino,1 Thorsten Nürnberger,2 and Bart P. H. J. Thomma1,3

1Laboratory of Phytopathology, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB Wageningen, The Netherlands; 2Center for Plant Molecular Biology-Plant Biochemistry, University of Tübingen, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany; 3Centre for BioSystems Genomics, P.O. Box 98, 6700 AB Wageningen, The Netherlands

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Accepted 5 October 2012.

In this study, we functionally analyzed the gene family encoding necrosis- and ethylene-inducing-like proteins (NLP) of the vascular wilt pathogen Verticillium dahliae. We show that the composition of the NLP gene family varies little among V. dahliae isolates. The cytotoxic activity of NLP family members of a tomato-pathogenic V. dahliae strain was determined, demonstrating that only two of the seven NLP induced plant cell death. The genes encoding these cytotoxic NLP were found to be induced in V. dahliae upon colonization of tomato. Interestingly, targeted deletion of either of the two genes in V. dahliae significantly compromised virulence on tomato as well as on Arabidopsis plants, whereas deletion of only one of the two genes affected virulence on Nicotiana benthamiana. This could be attributed to differential induction of the two NLP genes in V. dahliae upon N. benthamiana colonization, revealing that the in planta induction of NLP genes varies between plant hosts. Intriguingly, one of the NLP genes appears to also affect vegetative growth and conidiospore production, because the corresponding deletion strain produced significantly fewer conidiospores and developed extensive aerial mycelium. In conclusion, we demonstrate that the expanded V. dahliae NLP family shows functional diversification, revealing not only differential cytotoxicity between family members but also that the cytotoxic NLP play a role in vegetative growth and asexual reproduction in addition to their contribution to virulence.

© 2013 The American Phytopathological Society