Variability in an effector gene promoter of a necrotrophic fungal pathogen dictates epistasis and effector-triggered susceptibility in wheat
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The fungus Parastagonospora nodorum uses proteinaceous necrotrophic effectors (NEs) to induce tissue necrosis on wheat leaves during infection, leading to the symptoms of septoria nodorum blotch (SNB). The NEs Tox1 and Tox3 induce necrosis on wheat possessing the dominant susceptibility genes Snn1 and Snn3B1/Snn3D1, respectively. We previously observed that Tox1 is epistatic to the expression of Tox3 and a quantitative trait locus (QTL) on chromosome 2A that contributes to SNB resistance/susceptibility. The expression of Tox1 is significantly higher in the Australian strain SN15 compared to the American strain SN4. Inspection of the Tox1 promoter region revealed a 401 bp promoter genetic element in SN4 positioned 267 bp upstream of the start codon that is absent in SN15, called PE401. Analysis of the world-wide P. nodorum population revealed that a high proportion of Northern Hemisphere isolates possess PE401 whereas the opposite was observed in representative P. nodorum isolates from Australia and South Africa. The presence of PE401 removed the epistatic effect of Tox1 on the contribution of the SNB 2A QTL but not Tox3. PE401 was introduced into the Tox1 promoter regulatory region in SN15 to test for direct regulatory roles. Tox1 expression was markedly reduced in the presence of PE401. This suggests a repressor molecule(s) binds PE401 and inhibits Tox1 transcription. Infection assays also demonstrated that P. nodorum which lacks PE401 is more pathogenic on Snn1 wheat varieties than P. nodorum carrying PE401. An infection competition assay between P. nodorum isogenic strains with and without PE401 indicated that the higher Tox1-expressing strain rescued the reduced virulence of the lower Tox1-expressing strain on Snn1 wheat. Our study demonstrated that Tox1 exhibits both ‘selfish’ and ‘altruistic’ characteristics. This offers an insight into a complex NE-NE interaction that is occurring within the P. nodorum population. The importance of PE401 in breeding for SNB resistance in wheat is discussed.
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