Neofunctionalization of the secreted Tin2 effector in the fungal pathogen Ustilago maydis

Shigeyuki Tanaka, Gabriel Schweizer, Nicole Rössel, Fumi Fukada, Marco Thines, Regine Kahmann

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Plant-pathogenic fungi hijack their hosts by secreting effector proteins. Effectors serve to suppress plant immune responses and modulate the host metabolism to benefit the pathogen. Smut fungi are biotrophic pathogens that also parasitize important cereals, including maize 1 . Symptom development is usually restricted to the plant inflorescences. Ustilago maydis is an exception in its ability to cause tumours in both inflorescences and leaves of maize, and in inducing anthocyanin biosynthesis through the secreted Tin2 effector 2,3 . How the unique lifestyle of U. maydis has evolved remains to be elucidated. Here we show that Tin2 in U. maydis has been neofunctionalized. We functionally compared Tin2 effectors of U. maydis and the related smut Sporisorium reilianum, which results in symptoms only in the inflorescences of maize and fails to induce anthocyanin. We show that Tin2 effectors from both fungi target distinct paralogues of a maize protein kinase, leading to stabilization and inhibition, respectively. An ancestral Tin2 effector functionally replaced the virulence function of S. reilianum Tin2 but failed to induce anthocyanin, and was unable to substitute for Tin2 in U. maydis. This shows that Tin2 in U. maydis has acquired a specialized function, probably connected to the distinct pathogenic lifestyle of this fungus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-257
Number of pages7
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Cell Biology


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