A Consensus Ochratoxin A Biosynthetic Pathway: Insights from the Genome Sequence of Aspergillus ochraceus and a Comparative Genomic Analysis

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018 Sep 17;84(19):e01009-18. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01009-18. Print 2018 Oct 1.


Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a toxic secondary metabolite produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium species that widely contaminates food and feed. We sequenced and assembled the complete ∼37-Mb genome of Aspergillusochraceus fc-1, a well-known producer of OTA. Key genes of the OTA biosynthetic pathway were identified by comparative genomic analyses with five other sequenced OTA-producing fungi: A. carbonarius, A. niger, A. steynii, A. westerdijkiae, and Penicillium nordicum OTA production was completely inhibited in the deletion mutants (ΔotaA, ΔotaB, ΔotaC, ΔotaD, and ΔotaR1), and OTA biosynthesis was restored by feeding a postblock substrate to the corresponding mutant. The OTA biosynthetic pathway was unblocked in the ΔotaD mutant by the addition of heterologously expressed halogenase. OTA biosynthesis begins with a polyketide synthase (PKS), OtaA, utilizing acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) and malonyl-CoA to synthesize 7-methylmellein, which is oxidized to OTβ by cytochrome P450 monooxygenase (OtaC). OTβ and l-β-phenylalanine are combined by a nonribosomal peptide synthetase (NRPS), OtaB, to form an amide bond to synthesize OTB. Finally, OTB is chlorinated by a halogenase (OtaD) to OTA. The otaABCD genes were expressed at low levels in the ΔotaR1 mutant. A second regulator, otaR2, which is adjacent to the biosynthetic gene, could modulate only the expression of otaA, otaB, and otaD Thus, we have identified a consensus OTA biosynthetic pathway that can be used to prevent and control OTA synthesis and will help us understand the variation and production of the intermediate components in the biosynthetic pathway.IMPORTANCE Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a significant mycotoxin that contaminates cereal products, coffee, grapes, wine, cheese, and meat. OTA is nephrotoxic, carcinogenic, teratogenic, and immunotoxic. OTA contamination is a serious threat to food safety, endangers human health, and can cause huge economic losses. At present, >20 species of the genera Aspergillus and Penicillium are known to produce OTA. Here we demonstrate that a consensus OTA biosynthetic pathway exists in all OTA-producing fungi and is encoded by a gene cluster containing four highly conserved biosynthetic genes and a bZIP transcription factor.

Keywords: Aspergillus ochraceus; biosynthetic pathway; comparative genomics; genome; mycotoxin; ochratoxin A; regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aspergillus ochraceus / enzymology
  • Aspergillus ochraceus / genetics*
  • Aspergillus ochraceus / metabolism*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways*
  • Comparative Genomic Hybridization
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Genome, Fungal*
  • Genomics
  • Multigene Family
  • Ochratoxins / biosynthesis*
  • Penicillium / genetics
  • Penicillium / metabolism
  • Peptide Synthases / genetics
  • Peptide Synthases / metabolism
  • Polyketide Synthases / genetics
  • Polyketide Synthases / metabolism


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Ochratoxins
  • ochratoxin A
  • Polyketide Synthases
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Peptide Synthases
  • non-ribosomal peptide synthase