Suppression of Plant Immunity by Fungal Chitinase-like Effectors

Gabriel Lorencini Fiorin, Andrea Sanchéz-Vallet, Daniela Paula de Toledo Thomazella, Paula Favoretti Vital do Prado, Leandro Costa do Nascimento, Antonio Vargas de Oliveira Figueira, Bart P.H.J. Thomma, Gonçalo Amarante Guimarães Pereira*, Paulo José Pereira Lima Teixeira

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Crop diseases caused by fungi constitute one of the most important problems in agriculture, posing a serious threat to food security [1]. To establish infection, phytopathogens interfere with plant immune responses [2, 3]. However, strategies to promote virulence employed by fungal pathogens, especially non-model organisms, remain elusive [4], mainly because fungi are more complex and difficult to study when compared to the better-characterized bacterial pathogens. Equally incomplete is our understanding of the birth of microbial virulence effectors. Here, we show that the cacao pathogen Moniliophthora perniciosa evolved an enzymatically inactive chitinase (MpChi) that functions as a putative pathogenicity factor. MpChi is among the most highly expressed fungal genes during the biotrophic interaction with cacao and encodes a chitinase with mutations that abolish its enzymatic activity. Despite the lack of chitinolytic activity, MpChi retains substrate binding specificity and prevents chitin-triggered immunity by sequestering immunogenic chitin fragments. Remarkably, its sister species M. roreri encodes a second non-orthologous catalytically impaired chitinase with equivalent function. Thus, a class of conserved enzymes independently evolved as putative virulence factors in these fungi. In addition to unveiling a strategy of host immune suppression by fungal pathogens, our results demonstrate that the neofunctionalization of enzymes may be an evolutionary pathway for the rise of new virulence factors in fungi. We anticipate that analogous strategies are likely employed by other pathogens. Fiorin et al. demonstrate that two fungal pathogens of cacao independently evolved catalytically dead chitinases that bind to chitin and prevent elicitation of plant immunity. The study exemplifies how pathogens may evolve effectors by repurposing the functions of enzymes that are conserved throughout evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3023-3030.e5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2018


  • cacao
  • chitin
  • effector
  • frosty pod rot
  • GH18
  • LysM
  • MAMP-triggered immunity
  • Moniliophthora
  • neofunctionalization
  • witches’ broom disease


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