The Ustilago maydis Cys2His2-type zinc finger transcription factor Mzr1 regulates fungal gene expression during the biotrophic growth stage

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The smut fungus Ustilago maydis establishes a biotrophic relationship with its host plant maize to progress through sexual development. Here, we report the identification and characterization of the Cys2His2-type zinc finger protein Mzr1 that functions as a transcriptional activator during host colonization. Expression of the U. maydis mig2 cluster genes is tightly linked to this phase. Upon conditional overexpression, Mzr1 confers induction of a subset of mig2 genes during vegetative growth and this requires the same promoter elements that confer inducible expression in planta. Furthermore, expression of the mig2-4 and mig2-5 genes during biotrophic growth is strongly reduced in cells deleted in mzr1. DNA-array analysis led to the identification of additional Mzr1-induced genes. Some of these genes show a mig2-like plant-specific expression pattern and Mzr1 is responsible for their high-level expression during pathogenesis. Mzr1 function requires the b-dependently regulated Cys2His2-type cell cycle regulator Biz1, indicating that two stage-specific regulators mediate gene expression during host colonization. In spite of a role as transcriptional activator during biotrophic growth, mzr1 is not essential for pathogenesis; however, conditional overexpression interfered with proliferation during vegetative growth and mating ability, caused a cell separation defect, and triggered filamentous growth. We discuss the implications of these findings.

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