Disulfide bond structure of the AVR9 elicitor of the fungal tomato pathogen Cladosporium fulvum: Evidence for a cysteine knot

H.W. van den Hooven, H.A. van den Burg, J.P.M.J. Vossen, S. Boeren, P.J.G.M. de Wit, J.J.M. Vervoort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Disease resistance in plants is commonly activated by the product of an avirulence (Avr) gene of a pathogen after interaction with the product of a matching resistance (R) gene in the host. In susceptible plants, Avr products might function as virulence or pathogenicity factors. The AVR9 elicitor from the fungus Cladosporium fulvum induces defense responses in tomato plants carrying the Cf-9 resistance gene. This 28-residue -sheet AVR9 peptide contains three disulfide bridges, which were identified in this study as Cys2-Cys16, Cys6-Cys19, and Cys12-Cys26. For this purpose, AVR9 was partially reduced, and the thiol groups of newly formed cysteines were modified to prevent reactions with disulfides. After HPLC purification, the partially reduced peptides were sequenced to determine the positions of the modified cysteines, which originated from the reduced disulfide bridge(s). All steps involving molecules with free thiol groups were performed at low pH to suppress disulfide scrambling. For that reason, cysteine modification by N-ethylmaleimide was preferred over modification by iodoacetamide. Upon (partial) reduction of native AVR9, the Cys2-Cys16 bridge opened selectively. The resulting molecule was further reduced to two one-bridge intermediates, which were subsequently completely reduced. The (partially) reduced cysteine-modified AVR9 species showed little or no necrosis-inducing activity, demonstrating the importance of the disulfide bridges for biological activity. Based on peptide length and cysteine spacing, it was previously suggested that AVR9 isa cystine-knotted peptide. Now, we have proven that the bridging pattern of AVR9 is indeed identical to that of cystine-knotted peptides. Moreover, NMR data obtained for AVR9 show that it is structurally closely related to the cystine-knotted carboxypeptidase inhibitor. However, AVR9 does not show any carboxypeptidase inhibiting activity, indicating that the cystine-knot fold is a commonly occurring motif with varying biological functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3458-3466
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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