Fusarium graminearum is one of the most destructive pathogens of cereals and a threat to food and feed production worldwide. It is an ascomycetous plant pathogen and the causal agent of Fusarium head blight disease in small grain cereals and of cob rot disease in maize. Infection with F. graminearum leads to yield losses and mycotoxin contamination. Zearalenone (ZEA) and deoxynivalenol (DON) are hazardous mycotoxins; the latter is necessary for virulence toward wheat. Deletion mutants of the F. graminearum orthologue of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Hog1 stress-activated protein kinase, FgOS-2 (DeltaFgOS-2), showed drastically reduced in planta DON and ZEA production. However, DeltaFgOS-2 produced even more DON than the wild type under in vitro conditions, whereas ZEA production was similar to that of the wild type. These deletion strains are dramatically reduced in pathogenicity toward maize and wheat. We constitutively expressed the fluorescent protein dsRed in the deletion strains and the wild type. Microscopic analysis revealed that DeltaFgOS-2 is unable to reach the rachis node at the base of wheat spikelets. During vegetative growth, DeltaFgOS-2 strains exhibit increased resistance against the phenylpyrrole fludioxonil. Growth of mutant colonies on agar plates supplemented with NaCl is reduced but conidia formation remained unchanged. However, germination of mutant conidia on osmotic media is severely impaired. Germ tubes are swollen and contain multiple nuclei. The deletion mutants completely fail to produce perithecia and ascospores. Furthermore, FgOS-2 also plays a role in reactive oxygen species (ROS)-related signaling. The transcription and activity of fungal catalases is modulated by FgOS-2. Among the genes regulated by FgOS-2, we found a putative calcium-dependent NADPH-oxidase (noxC) and the transcriptional regulator of ROS metabolism, atf1. The present study describes new aspects of stress-activated protein kinase signaling in F. graminearum.
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