Chromatin modifications and heterochromatic marks have been shown to be involved in the regulation of secondary metabolism gene clusters in the fungal model system Aspergillus nidulans. We examine here the role of HEP1, the heterochromatin protein homolog of Fusarium graminearum, for the production of secondary metabolites. Deletion of Hep1 in a PH-1 background strongly influences expression of genes required for the production of aurofusarin and the main tricothecene metabolite DON. In the Hep1 deletion strains AUR genes are highly up-regulated and aurofusarin production is greatly enhanced suggesting a repressive role for heterochromatin on gene expression of this cluster. Unexpectedly, gene expression and metabolites are lower for the trichothecene cluster suggesting a positive function of Hep1 for DON biosynthesis. However, analysis of histone modifications in chromatin of AUR and DON gene promoters reveals that in both gene clusters the H3K9me3 heterochromatic mark is strongly reduced in the Hep1 deletion strain. This, and the finding that a DON-cluster flanking gene is up-regulated, suggests that the DON biosynthetic cluster is repressed by HEP1 directly and indirectly. Results from this study point to a conserved mode of secondary metabolite (SM) biosynthesis regulation in fungi by chromatin modifications and the formation of facultative heterochromatin.
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