Background: The toxigenic fungal plant pathogen Fusarium graminearum compromises wheat production worldwide. Azole fungicides play a prominent role in controlling this pathogen. Sequencing of its genome stimulated the development of high-throughput technologies to study mechanisms of coping with fungicide stress and adaptation to fungicides at a previously unprecedented precision. DNA-microarrays have been used to analyze genome-wide gene expression patterns and uncovered complex transcriptional responses. A recently developed one-color multiplex array format allowed flexible, effective, and parallel examinations of eight RNA samples.
Results: We took advantage of the 8 × 15 k Agilent format to design, evaluate, and apply a novel microarray covering the whole F. graminearum genome to analyze transcriptional responses to azole fungicide treatment. Comparative statistical analysis of expression profiles uncovered 1058 genes that were significantly differentially expressed after azole-treatment. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis for 31 selected genes indicated high conformity to results from the microarray hybridization. Among the 596 genes with significantly increased transcript levels, analyses using GeneOntology and FunCat annotations detected the ergosterol-biosynthesis pathway genes as the category most significantly responding, confirming the mode-of-action of azole fungicides. Cyp51A, which is one of the three F. graminearum paralogs of Cyp51 encoding the target of azoles, was the most consistently differentially expressed gene of the entire study. A molecular phylogeny analyzing the relationships of the three CYP51 proteins in the context of 38 fungal genomes belonging to the Pezizomycotina indicated that CYP51C (FGSG_11024) groups with a new clade of CYP51 proteins. The transcriptional profiles for genes encoding ABC transporters and transcription factors suggested several involved in mechanisms alleviating the impact of the fungicide. Comparative analyses with published microarray experiments obtained from two different nutritional stress conditions identified subsets of genes responding to different types of stress. Some of the genes that responded only to tebuconazole treatment appeared to be unique to the F. graminearum genome.
Conclusions: The novel F. graminearum 8 × 15 k microarray is a reliable and efficient high-throughput tool for genome-wide expression profiling experiments in fungicide research, and beyond, as shown by our data obtained for azole responses. The array data contribute to understanding mechanisms of fungicide resistance and allow identifying fungicide targets.