Background: The fungal pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici is a significant constraint to wheat production in temperate cropping regions around the world. Despite its agronomic impacts, the mechanisms allowing the pathogen to asymptomatically invade and grow in the apoplast of wheat leaves before causing extensive host cell death remain elusive. Given recent evidence of extracellular vesicles (EVs) – secreted, membrane-bound nanoparticles containing molecular cargo – being implicated in extracellular communication between plants and fungal pathogen, we have initiated an in vitro investigation of EVs from this apoplastic fungal wheat pathogen. We aimed to isolate EVs from Z. tritici broth cultures and examine their protein composition in relation to the soluble protein in the culture filtrate and to existing fungal EV proteomes.
Results: Zymoseptoria tritici EVs were isolated from broth culture filtrates using differential ultracentrifugation (DUC) and examined with transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA). Z. tritici EVs were observed as a heterogeneous population of particles, with most between 50 – 100 nm. These particles were found in abundance in the culture filtrates of viable Z. tritici cultures, but not heat-killed cultures incubated for an equivalent time and of comparable biomass. Bottom-up proteomic analysis using LC-MS/MS, followed by stringent filtering revealed 240 Z. tritici EV proteins. These proteins were distinct from soluble proteins identified in Z. tritici culture filtrates, but were similar to proteins identified in EVs from other fungi, based on sequence similarity analyses. Notably, a putative marker protein recently identified in Candida albicans EVs was also consistently detected in Z. tritici EVs.
Conclusion: We have shown EVs can be isolated from the devastating fungal wheat pathogen Z. tritici and are similar to protein composition to previously characterised fungal EVs. EVs from human pathogenic fungi are implicated in virulence, but the role of EVs in the interaction of phytopathogenic fungi and their hosts is unknown. These in vitro analyses provide a basis for expanding investigations of Z. tritici EVs in planta, to examine their involvement in the infection process of this apoplastic wheat pathogen and more broadly, advance understanding of noncanonical secretion in filamentous plant pathogens.