In previous work, we evolved a population of Trichoderma citrinoviride in liquid cultures to speed up its asexual development cycle. The evolved population, called T-6, formed conidia 3 times sooner and in >1000-fold greater numbers. Here, we identify the steroid pregnenolone as a molecular signal for this different behavior. Media in which the ancestral T. citrinoviride population was grown (called ancestral spent media) contained a submerged conidiation inhibitor. Growing the evolved population T-6 in ancestral spent media eliminated the abundant formation of conidia. This inhibition depended on the amount and age of the ancestral spent medium and the time that the ancestral spent medium was added to the T-6 culture. Fractionation of the ancestral spent medium identified a hydrophobic inhibiting compound with a molecular weight less than 2000 g/mol. A combination of GC-MS, ELISA, and reaction with cholesterol oxidase identified it as pregnenolone. The addition of pregnenolone to cultures of T-6 inhibited submerged conidiation by inhibiting formation of conidiophores, while 10 other analogous steroids did not. Pregnenolone also inhibited submerged conidiation of Fusarium graminearum PH-1, a plant pathogen that causes head blight in wheat and barley. This identification of steroids as signal molecules in fungi creates opportunities to disrupt this signaling to control fungal behavior.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank T. P. Krick of the University of Minnesota Center for Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics for help with GC-MS, K. Broz and H. C. Kistle of the USDA ARS Cereal Disease Laboratory for assistance with the Fusarium graminearum experiments, and the University of Minnesota Biotechnology Institute for funding.