The Ste12-like transcription factor MaSte12 is involved in pathogenicity by regulating the appressorium formation in the entomopathogenic fungus, Metarhizium acridum
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Homeodomain transcription factor Ste12 is a key target activated by the pathogenic mitogen-activated-protein kinase pathway, and the activated Ste12p protein regulates downstream gene expression levels to modulate phenotypes. However, the functions of Ste12-like genes in entomopathogenic fungi remain poorly understood and little is known about the downstream genes regulated by Ste12. In this study, we characterized the functions of a Ste12 orthologue in Metarhizium acridum, MaSte12, and identified its downstream target genes. The deletion mutant (ΔMaSte12) is defective in conidial germination but not in hyphal growth, conidiation, or stress tolerance. Bioassays showed that ΔMaSte12 had a dramatically decreased virulence in topical inoculations, but no significant difference was found in intrahemolymph injections when the penetration process was bypassed. The mature appressorium formation rate of ΔMaSte12 was less than 10% on locust wings, with the majority hyphae forming appressorium-like, curved but no swollen structures. Digital gene expression profiling revealed that some genes involved in cell wall synthesis and remodeling, appressorium development, and insect cuticle penetration were downregulated in ΔMaSte12. Thus, MaSte12 has critical roles in the pathogenicity of the entomopathogenic fungus M. acridum, and our study provides some explanations for the impairment of fungal virulence in ΔMaSte12. In addition, virulence is very important for fungal biocontrol agents to control insect pests effectively. This study demonstrated that MaSte12 is involved in fungal virulence but not conidial yield or fungal stress tolerance in M. acridum. Thus, MaSte12 and its downstream genes may be candidates for enhancing fungal virulence to improve mycoinsecticides.
KeywordsMetarhizium acridum MaSte12 Transcription factor Pathogenicity Appressorium formation
This work was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (nos. 31471820 and 31270040), the Natural Science Foundation Project of Chongqing (cstc 2015jcyjA80037), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (0304005202014).
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.
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