Self-protection against the sphingolipid biosynthesis inhibitor fumonisin B1 is conferred by a FUM cluster-encoded ceramide synthase.
Fumonisin (FB) mycotoxins produced by species of the genus Fusarium detrimentally affect human and animal health upon consumption, due to the inhibition of ceramide synthase. In the present work, we set out to identify mechanisms of self-protection employed by the FB1 producer Fusarium verticillioides. FB1 biosynthesis was shown to be compartmentalized, and two cluster-encoded self-protection mechanisms were identified. First, the ATP-binding cassette transporter Fum19 acts as a repressor of the FUM gene cluster. Appropriately, FUM19 deletion and overexpression increased and decreased, respectively, the levels of intracellular and secreted FB1. Second, the cluster genes FUM17 and FUM18 were shown to be two of five ceramide synthase homologs in Fusarium verticillioides, grouping into the two clades CS-I and CS-II in a phylogenetic analysis. The ability of FUM18 to fully complement the yeast ceramide synthase null mutant LAG1/LAC1 demonstrated its functionality, while coexpression of FUM17 and CER3 partially complemented, likely via heterodimer formation. Cell viability assays revealed that Fum18 contributes to the fungal self-protection against FB1 and increases resistance by providing FUM cluster-encoded ceramide synthase activity.