Int J Food Microbiol. 2022 Jul 12;377:109828. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2022.109828. Online ahead of print.
Aspergillus flavus contaminates crops and produces carcinogenic aflatoxins that pose severe threat to food safety and human health. To identify potential targets to control aflatoxin contamination, we characterized a novel Afper1 protein, which regulates cell development and secondary metabolite biosynthesis in A. flavus. Afper1 is localized in the nucleus and is required for hyphal growth, conidial and sclerotial production, and responses to osmotic stress and essential oils such as cinnamaldehyde and thymol. More importantly, aflatoxin production was impaired in the Afper1 deletion mutant. Proteomics analysis revealed that extracellular hydrolases and proteins involved in conidial development, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) homeostasis, and aflatoxin biosynthesis were differentially regulated in ΔAfper1. Unexpectedly, enzymes participated in reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenging, including catalase (catA, catB) and superoxide dismutase (sodM) were significantly downregulated, and the ROS accumulation and sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide were confirmed experimentally. Additionally, Afper1 deletion significantly upregulated heterochromatin protein HepA and downregulated acetyltransferases involved in heterochromatin formation. Accompanying ROS accumulation and chromatin remodeling, proteins related to aflatoxins, ustiloxin B and gliotoxin were downregulated. These results implied that Afper1 deletion affected chromatin remodeling and disturbed ER homeostasis, leading to ROS accumulation, and ultimately resulting in defective growth and impaired secondary metabolite biosynthesis.