Fungal basic leucine zipper (bZIP) transcription factors mediate responses to oxidative stress. The ability to regulate stress response pathways in Aspergillus
spp. was postulated to be an important virulence-associated cellular process, because it helps establish infection in humans, plants, and animals. Previous studies have demonstrated that the fungal transcription factor AtfB encodes a protein that is associated with resistance to oxidative stress in asexual conidiospores, and AtfB binds to the promoters of several stress response genes. Here, we conducted a gene silencing of AtfB in Aspergillus parasiticus
, a well-characterized fungal pathogen of plants, animals, and humans that produces the secondary metabolite and carcinogen aflatoxin, in order to determine the mechanisms by which AtfB contributes to virulence. We show that AtfB silencing results in a decrease in aflatoxin enzyme levels, the down-regulation of aflatoxin accumulation, and impaired conidiospore development in AtfB-silenced strains. This observation is supported by a decrease of AtfB protein levels, and the down-regulation of many genes in the aflatoxin cluster, as well as genes involved in secondary metabolism and conidiospore development. Global expression analysis (RNA Seq) demonstrated that AtfB functionally links oxidative stress response pathways to a broader and novel subset of target genes involved in cellular defense, as well as in actin and cytoskeleton arrangement/transport. Thus, AtfB regulates the genes involved in development, stress response, and secondary metabolism in A. parasiticus
. We propose that the bZIP regulatory circuit controlled by AtfB provides a large number of excellent cellular targets to reduce fungal virulence. More importantly, understanding key players that are crucial to initiate the cellular response to oxidative stress will enable better control over its detrimental impacts on humans.
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