Systems analysis of plant cell wall degradation by the model filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 29;106(52):22157-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0906810106. Epub 2009 Dec 15.


The filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa is a model laboratory organism, but in nature is commonly found growing on dead plant material, particularly grasses. Using functional genomics resources available for N. crassa, which include a near-full genome deletion strain set and whole genome microarrays, we undertook a system-wide analysis of plant cell wall and cellulose degradation. We identified approximately 770 genes that showed expression differences when N. crassa was cultured on ground Miscanthus stems as a sole carbon source. An overlap set of 114 genes was identified from expression analysis of N. crassa grown on pure cellulose. Functional annotation of up-regulated genes showed enrichment for proteins predicted to be involved in plant cell wall degradation, but also many genes encoding proteins of unknown function. As a complement to expression data, the secretome associated with N. crassa growth on Miscanthus and cellulose was determined using a shotgun proteomics approach. Over 50 proteins were identified, including 10 of the 23 predicted N. crassa cellulases. Strains containing deletions in genes encoding 16 proteins detected in both the microarray and mass spectrometry experiments were analyzed for phenotypic changes during growth on crystalline cellulose and for cellulase activity. While growth of some of the deletion strains on cellulose was severely diminished, other deletion strains produced higher levels of extracellular proteins that showed increased cellulase activity. These results show that the powerful tools available in N. crassa allow for a comprehensive system level understanding of plant cell wall degradation mechanisms used by a ubiquitous filamentous fungus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Cell Wall / metabolism*
  • Cellulase / genetics
  • Cellulase / metabolism
  • Cellulose / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Genome, Fungal
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurospora crassa / genetics*
  • Neurospora crassa / growth & development
  • Neurospora crassa / metabolism*
  • Poaceae / metabolism*
  • Poaceae / microbiology
  • Proteome
  • Systems Analysis


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Proteome
  • Cellulose
  • Cellulase