ABSTRACT

Contamination of maize (Zea mays) with fumonisins produced by the fungus Fusarium verticillioides is a global concern for food safety. Fumonisins are a group of polyketide-derived secondary metabolites linked to esophageal cancer and neural tube birth defects in humans and numerous toxicoses in livestock. Despite the importance of fumonisins in global maize production, the regulation of fumonisin biosynthesis during kernel pathogenesis is poorly understood. The HAP complex is a conserved, heterotrimeric transcriptional regulator that binds the consensus sequence CCAAT to modulate gene expression. Recently, functional characterization of the Hap3 subunit linked the HAP complex to the regulation of secondary metabolism and stalk rot pathogenesis in F. verticillioides. Here, we determine the involvement of HAP3 in fumonisin biosynthesis and kernel pathogenesis. Deletion of HAP3 suppressed fumonisin biosynthesis on both nonviable and live maize kernels and impaired pathogenesis in living kernels. Transcriptional profiling via RNA sequencing indicated that the HAP complex regulates at least 1,223 genes in F. verticillioides, representing nearly 10% of all predicted genes. Disruption of the HAP complex caused the misregulation of biosynthetic gene clusters underlying the production of secondary metabolites, including fusarins. Taken together, these results reveal that the HAP complex is a central regulator of fumonisin biosynthesis and kernel pathogenesis and works as both a positive and negative regulator of secondary metabolism in F. verticillioides.

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