Mycotoxigenic fusarium and deoxynivalenol production repress chitinase gene expression in the biocontrol agent trichoderma atroviride P1
Mycotoxin contamination associated with head blight of wheat and other grains caused by Fusarium culmorum and F. graminearum is a chronic threat to crop, human, and animal health throughout the world. One of the most important toxins in terms of human exposure is deoxynivalenol (DON) (formerly called vomitoxin), an inhibitor of protein synthesis with a broad spectrum of toxigenicity against animals. Certain Fusarium toxins have additional antimicrobial activity, and the phytotoxin fusaric acid has recently been shown to modulate fungus-bacterium interactions that affect plant health (Duffy and Défago, Phytopathology 87:1250-1257, 1997). The potential impact of DON on Fusarium competition with other microorganisms has not been described previously. Any competitive advantage conferred by DON would complicate efforts to control Fusarium during its saprophytic growth on crop residues that are left after harvest and constitute the primary inoculum reservoir for outbreaks in subsequent plantings. We examined the effect of the DON mycotoxin on ecological interactions between pathogenic Fusarium and Trichoderma atroviride strain P1, a competitor fungus with biocontrol activity against a wide range of plant diseases. Expression of the Trichoderma chitinase genes, ech42 and nag1, which contribute to biocontrol activity, was monitored in vitro and on crop residues of two maize cultivars by using goxA reporter gene fusions. We found that DON-producing F. culmorum and F. graminearum strains repressed expression of nag1-gox. DON-negative wild-type Fusarium strains and a DON-negative mutant with an insertional disruption in the tricothecene biosynthetic gene, tri5, had no effect on antagonist gene expression. The role of DON as the principal repressor above other pathogen factors was confirmed. Exposure of Trichoderma to synthetic DON or to a non-DON-producing Fusarium mutant resulted in the same level of nag1-gox repression as the level observed with DON-producing Fusarium. DON repression was specific for nag1-gox and had no effect, either positive or negative, on expression of another key chitinase gene, ech42. This is the first demonstration that a target pathogen down-regulates genes in a fungal biocontrol agent, and our results provide evidence that mycotoxins have a novel ecological function as factors in Fusarium competitiveness.