Ambient Ph Is a Major Determinant in the Expression of Cuticle-degrading Enzymes and Hydrophobin by Metarhizium Anisopliae

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology





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Secretion of proteolytic and chitinolytic enzymes is a hallmark of infection processes of Metarhizium anisopliae in response to host (insect) cuticular signals. The regulation of these enzymes (subtilisin-like proteases [Pr1a and Pr1b], trypsin-like proteases [Pr2], metalloproteases, aspartyl proteases, aminopeptidase, and chitinases) and a hydrophobin was investigated by Northern analysis and/or enzyme assay. The production of each enzyme showed a differential expression pattern in response to ambient pH; enzymes were synthesized only at pHs at which they function effectively, irrespective of whether the medium contained an inductive cuticle substrate. Three aspartyl proteases (pH optimum, 3), and chitinase (pH optimum, 5) showed maximal accumulation at acidic pHs. The highest level of aminopeptidase (pH optimum, 7) was detected at pH 7. The highest levels of five metalloproteases (pH optima, ca. 7) were detected over the pH range 6 to 8. Two trypsins and several subtilisin-like Pr1 isoforms with pH optima of ca. 8 were produced only under alkaline conditions. Northern analysis of RNA species corresponding to seven cDNA sequences encoding proteases and chitinase confirmed that the ambient pH played a major role in gene expression of secreted proteins. Hydrophobin was expressed almost equally at pHs 5 and 8 but was not expressed at pH 3. During fungal penetration, the pH of infected cuticle rises from about 6.3 to 7.7. Consistent with pH regulation of enzyme production, serine and metalloproteases were produced in situ during infection, but no production of aspartyl proteases was found. We propose that the alkalinity of infected cuticle represents a physiological signal that triggers the production of virulence factors.

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