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The Role of The Activating Transcription Factor (ATF1) in Oxidative Stress Resistance and Pathogenicity of The Citrus Fungal Pathogen Alternaria alternata
Solomon Samuel Antonio Jr.
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Alternaria brown spot is caused by the necrotrophic fungus Alternaria alternata. The disease affects tangerine, grapefruit and many other citrus cultivars. Its pathogenic capability has been linked to various biological processes such as the production of host-selective ACT toxin to kill host cells prior to colonization to acquire nutrients from dead cells; the role of siderophores in iron uptake and virulence, and the circumvention of plant defenses such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) detoxification to successfully colonize within the oxidative environment of necrotic tissues.
This research determined the important roles of a transcription factor which has functional domains that are likely to be important for the Alternaria brown spot disease process. The activating transcription factor (ATF1) contains a basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription domain which activates a variety of genes in response to stress, the HRA and HRR domains which are required for a wide range of stress responses as well as meiotic recombination, and an osmotic stress response (OSM) domain.
Using a loss-of-function mutation in the AaATF1 gene, its essential requirement during various steps of the disease process was demonstrated. Disruption of the AaATF1 gene in A. alternata reduced antioxidant activities and increased sensitivity to the superoxide-generating compounds menadione (MD) and potassium superoxide (KO2). The AaATF1 null mutants also failed to induce significant necrotic lesions on citrus leaves, primarily due to its inability to penetrate the tissue surface. AaATF1 also affects the production of the host-selective ACT toxin, therefore significantly decreasing the pathogenicity of A. alternata. All mutant phenotypes were restored to wild-type level in fungal strains expressing a functional copy of AaATF1.
The results revealed that AaATF1 plays a very important role in several aspects of the biological fungal development of Alternaria alternata. It is a key regulator in proper conidiation, fungal virulence, siderophore production, host-selective toxin production and cellular resistance to ROS and several other drugs. These regulatory functions of AaATF1 make it a key factor in the disease process of A. alternata. Overall, this study highlights the dramatic flexibility and uniqueness in the biological pathways that are involved in pathogenicity, virulence, and various stress responses in Alternaria alternata.
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