Requirement of LaeA, VeA, and VelB on Asexual Development, Ochratoxin A Biosynthesis, and Fungal Virulence in Aspergillus ochraceus

Front Microbiol. 2019 Nov 28;10:2759. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2019.02759. eCollection 2019.


Aspergillus ochraceus is reported to be the major contributor of ochratoxin A (OTA), classified as one of the possible human carcinogen (group 2B) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The heterotrimeric velvet complex proteins, LaeA/VeA/VelB, have been most studied in fungi to clarify the relation between light-dependent morphology and secondary metabolism. To explore possible genetic targets to control OTA contamination, we have identified laeA, veA, and velB in A. ochraceus. The loss of laeA, veA, and velB yielded mutants with differences in vegetative growth and conidial production. Especially, ΔlaeA almost lost the ability to generate conidiaphore under dark condition. The deletion of laeA, veA, and velB drastically reduced the production of OTA. The wild-type A. ochraceus produced about 1 and 7 μg/cm2 OTA under light and dark conditions on media, whereas the three gene deletion mutants produced less than 20 ng/cm2 OTA, which was correlated with a down regulation of OTA biosynthetic genes. Pathogenicity studies of ΔlaeA, ΔveA, and ΔvelB showed their reduction in disease severity in pears. Furthermore, 66.1% of the backbone genes in secondary metabolite gene cluster were significantly regulated, among which 81.6% were downregulated. Taking together, these results revealed that velvet complex proteins played crucial roles in asexual development, secondary metabolism, and fungal virulence in A. ochraceus.

Keywords: Aspergillus ochraceus; LaeA; VeA; VelB; development; ochratoxin A; secondary metabolism; virulence.