Fungal chitinases: function, regulation, and potential roles in plant/pathogen interactions

Curr Genet. 2016 May;62(2):243-54. doi: 10.1007/s00294-015-0530-x. Epub 2015 Nov 2.


In the past decades our knowledge about fungal cell wall architecture increased tremendously and led to the identification of many enzymes involved in polysaccharide synthesis and remodeling, which are also of biotechnological interest. Fungal cell walls play an important role in conferring mechanic stability during cell division and polar growth. Additionally, in phytopathogenic fungi the cell wall is the first structure that gets into intimate contact with the host plant. A major constituent of fungal cell walls is chitin, a homopolymer of N-acetylglucosamine units. To ensure plasticity, polymeric chitin needs continuous remodeling which is maintained by chitinolytic enzymes, including lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases N-acetylglucosaminidases, and chitinases. Depending on the species and lifestyle of fungi, there is great variation in the number of encoded chitinases and their function. Chitinases can have housekeeping function in plasticizing the cell wall or can act more specifically during cell separation, nutritional chitin acquisition, or competitive interaction with other fungi. Although chitinase research made huge progress in the last decades, our knowledge about their role in phytopathogenic fungi is still scarce. Recent findings in the dimorphic basidiomycete Ustilago maydis show that chitinases play different physiological functions throughout the life cycle and raise questions about their role during plant-fungus interactions. In this work we summarize these functions, mechanisms of chitinase regulation and their putative role during pathogen/host interactions.

Keywords: Cytokinesis; Effector proteins; Fungal chitinases; Immunity; Plant/fungus interaction; Ustilago maydis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chitin / metabolism
  • Chitinases / metabolism*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology
  • Ustilago / enzymology*


  • Chitin
  • Chitinases