Fungal effector proteins facilitate host-plant colonization and have generally been characterized as small secreted proteins (SSPs). We classified and functionally tested SSPs from the secretomes of three closely related necrotrophic phytopathogens: Ciborinia camelliae, Botrytis cinerea, and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. Alignment of predicted SSPs identified a large protein family that share greater than 41% amino acid identity and that have key characteristics of previously described microbe-associated molecular patterns (MAMPs). Strikingly, 73 of the 75 SSP family members were predicted within the secretome of the host-specialist C. camelliae with single-copy homologs identified in the secretomes of the host generalists S. sclerotiorum and B. cinerea. To explore the potential function of this family of SSPs, 10 of the 73 C. camelliae proteins, together with the single-copy homologs from S. sclerotiorum (SsSSP3) and B. cinerea (BcSSP2), were cloned and expressed as recombinant proteins. Infiltration of SsSSP3 and BcSSP2 into host tissue induced rapid necrosis. In contrast, only one of the 10 tested C. camelliae SSPs was able to induce a limited amount of necrosis. Analysis of chimeric proteins consisting of domains from both a necrosis-inducing and a non-necrosis-inducing SSP demonstrated that the C-terminus of the S. sclerotiorum SSP is essential for necrosis-inducing function. Deletion of the BcSSP2 homolog from B. cinerea did not affect growth or pathogenesis. Thus, this research uncovered a family of highly conserved SSPs present in diverse ascomycetes that exhibit contrasting necrosis-inducing functions.
© 2020 The Authors. Molecular Plant Pathology published by British Society for Plant Pathology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.