This study shows that the direct indicator of oxidative stress superoxide radical (O·₂⁻) is involved in the sclerotial differentiation of the phytopathogenic filamentous fungi Rhizoctonia solani, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, Sclerotium rolfsii, and Sclerotinia minor. The production rate of O·₂⁻ and the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) levels in the sclerotiogenic fungi were significantly higher and lower, respectively, than those of their non-differentiating counterpart strains, which strongly suggests that the oxidative stress of the sclerotium differentiating fungi is higher than that of the non-differentiating ones. Xanthine oxidase (XO), which was detected for the first time in fungi in general, was localized in the cytoplasmic membrane. The contribution of XO in the overall O·₂⁻production was very significant, reaching 30-70% among the strains, especially in the transition developmental stage between the undifferentiated and the differentiated state, suggesting a sclerotium triggering and a phytopathogenic role of XO during plant infection. The additional finding that these fungi secrete extracellular SOD can be related to their protection from the response of plants to produce O·₂⁻ at infection sites.
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