A DNase from a Fungal Phytopathogen Is a Virulence Factor Likely Deployed as Counter Defense against Host-Secreted Extracellular DNA

Hee Jin Park, Weiwei Wang, Gilberto Curlango-Rivera, Zhongguo Xiong, Zeran Lin, David A. Huskey, Martha C Hawes, Hans D. VanEtten, B. Gillian Turgeon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Histone-linked extracellular DNA (exDNA) is a component of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NETs have been shown to play a role in immune response to bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoan parasites. Mutation of genes encoding group A Streptococcus extracellular DNases (exDNases) results in reduced virulence in animals, a finding that implies that exDNases are deployed as counter defense against host DNA-containing NETs. Is the exDNA/exDNase mechanism also relevant to plants and their pathogens? It has been demonstrated previously that exDNA is a component of a matrix secreted from plant root caps and that plants also carry out an extracellular trapping process. Treatment with DNase I destroys root tip resistance to infection by fungi, the most abundant plant pathogens. We show that the absence of a single gene encoding a candidate exDNase results in significantly reduced virulence of a fungal plant pathogen to its host on leaves, the known infection site, and on roots. Mg2+-dependent exDNase activity was demonstrated in fungal culture filtrates and induced when host leaf material was present. It is speculated that the enzyme functions to degrade plant-secreted DNA, a component of a complex matrix akin to neutrophil extracellular traps of animals.IMPORTANCE We document that the absence of a single gene encoding a DNase in a fungal plant pathogen results in significantly reduced virulence to a plant host. We compared a wild-type strain of the maize pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus and an isogenic mutant lacking a candidate secreted DNase-encoding gene and demonstrated that the mutant is reduced in virulence on leaves and on roots. There are no previous reports of deletion of such a gene from either an animal or plant fungal pathogen accompanied by comparative assays of mutants and wild type for alterations in virulence. We observed DNase activity, in fungal culture filtrates, that is Mg2+ dependent and induced when plant host leaf material is present. Our findings demonstrate not only that fungi use extracellular DNases (exDNases) for virulence, but also that the relevant molecules are deployed in above-ground leaves as well as below-ground plant tissues. Overall, these data provide support for a common defense/counter defense virulence mechanism used by animals, plants, and their fungal and bacterial pathogens and suggest that components of the mechanism might be novel targets for the control of plant disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 5 2019



  • extracellular DNA
  • fungi
  • NETs
  • virulence determinants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology

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