Genetic bases for variation in structure and biological activity of trichothecene toxins produced by diverse fungi

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2020 Jun;104(12):5185-5199. doi: 10.1007/s00253-020-10612-0. Epub 2020 Apr 23.


Trichothecenes are sesquiterpene toxins produced by diverse but relatively few fungal species in at least three classes of Ascomycetes: Dothideomycetes, Eurotiomycetes, and Sordariomycetes. Approximately 200 structurally distinct trichothecene analogs have been described, but a given fungal species typically produces only a small subset of analogs. All trichothecenes share a core structure consisting of a four-ring nucleus known as 12,13-epoxytrichothec-9-ene. This structure can be substituted at various positions with hydroxyl, acyl, or keto groups to give rise to the diversity of trichothecene structures that has been described. Over the last 30 years, the genetic and biochemical pathways required for trichothecene biosynthesis in several species of the fungi Fusarium and Trichoderma have been elucidated. In addition, phylogenetic and functional analyses of trichothecene biosynthetic (TRI) genes from fungi in multiple genera have provided insights into how acquisition, loss, and changes in functions of TRI genes have given rise to the diversity of trichothecene structures. These analyses also suggest both divergence and convergence of TRI gene function during the evolutionary history of trichothecene biosynthesis. What has driven trichothecene structural diversification remains an unanswered question. However, insight into the role of trichothecenes in plant pathogenesis of Fusarium species and into plant glucosyltransferases that detoxify the toxins by glycosylating them point to a possible driver. Because the glucosyltransferases can have substrate specificity, changes in trichothecene structures produced by a fungus could allow it to evade detoxification by the plant enzymes. Thus, it is possible that advantages conferred by evading detoxification have contributed to trichothecene structural diversification. KEY POINTS : • TRI genes have evolved by diverse processes: loss, acquisition and changes in function. • Some TRI genes have acquired the same function by convergent evolution. • Some other TRI genes have evolved divergently to have different functions. • Some TRI genes were acquired or resulted from diversification in function of other genes. • Substrate specificity of plant glucosyltransferases could drive trichothecene diversity.

Keywords: Gene evolution; Phylogenetics; Plant glucosyltransferases; TRI genes; Trichothecene structural diversity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • Fungi / classification
  • Fungi / genetics
  • Fungi / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Mycotoxins / chemistry*
  • Mycotoxins / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Trichothecenes / chemistry*


  • DNA, Fungal
  • Mycotoxins
  • Trichothecenes