The necrotrophic fungal pathogen Cochliobolus victoriae produces victorin, a host-selective toxin (HST) essential for pathogenicity to certain oat cultivars with resistance against crown rust. Victorin is a mixture of highly modified heterodetic cyclic hexapeptides, previously assumed to be synthesized by a nonribosomal peptide synthetase. Herein, we demonstrate that victorin is a member of the ribosomally synthesized and posttranslationally modified peptide (RiPP) family of natural products. Analysis of a newly generated long-read assembly of the C. victoriae genome revealed three copies of precursor peptide genes (vicA1-3) with variable numbers of "GLKLAF" core peptide repeats corresponding to the victorin peptide backbone. vicA1-3 are located in repeat-rich gene-sparse regions of the genome and are loosely clustered with putative victorin biosynthetic genes, which are supported by the discovery of compact gene clusters harboring corresponding homologs in two distantly related plant-associated Sordariomycete fungi. Deletion of at least one copy of vicA resulted in strongly diminished victorin production. Deletion of a gene encoding a DUF3328 protein (VicYb) abolished the production altogether, supporting its predicted role in oxidative cyclization of the core peptide. In addition, we uncovered a copper amine oxidase (CAO) encoded by vicK, in which its deletion led to the accumulation of new glycine-containing victorin derivatives. The role of VicK in oxidative deamination of the N-terminal glycyl moiety of the hexapeptides to the active glyoxylate forms was confirmed in vitro. This study finally unraveled the genetic and molecular bases for biosynthesis of one of the first discovered HSTs and expanded our understanding of underexplored fungal RiPPs.
Keywords: Cochliobolus; RiPP; copper amine oxidase; host-selective toxin; victorin.