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Fungal and herbivore elicitation of the novel maize sesquiterpenoid, zealexin A4, is attenuated by elevated CO2.


Main conclusion

Chemical isolation and NMR-based structure elucidation revealed a novel keto-acidic sesquiterpenoid, termed zealexin A4 (ZA4). ZA4 is elicited by pathogens and herbivory, but attenuated by heightened levels of CO 2 . The identification of the labdane-related diterpenoids, termed kauralexins and acidic sesquiterpenoids, termed zealexins, demonstrated the existence of at least ten novel stress-inducible maize metabolites with diverse antimicrobial activity. Despite these advances, the identity of co-occurring and predictably related analytes remains largely unexplored. In the current effort, we identify and characterize the first sesquiterpene keto acid derivative of β-macrocarpene, named zealexin A4 (ZA4). Evaluation of diverse maize inbreds revealed that ZA4 is commonly produced in maize scutella during the first 14 days of seedling development; however, ZA4 production in the scutella was markedly reduced in seedlings grown in sterile soil. Elevated ZA4 production was observed in response to inoculation with adventitious fungal pathogens, such as Aspergillus flavus and Rhizopus microsporus, and a positive relationship between ZA4 production and expression of the predicted zealexin biosynthetic genes, terpene synthases 6 and 11 (Tps6 and Tps11), was observed. ZA4 exhibited significant antimicrobial activity against the mycotoxigenic pathogen A. flavus; however, ZA4 activity against R. microsporus was minimal, suggesting the potential of some fungi to detoxify ZA4. Significant induction of ZA4 production was also observed in response to infestation with the stem tunneling herbivore Ostrinia nubilalis. Examination of the interactive effects of elevated CO2 (E-CO2) on both fungal and herbivore-elicited ZA4 production revealed significantly reduced levels of inducible ZA4 accumulation, consistent with a negative role for E-CO2 on ZA4 production. Collectively, these results describe a novel β-macrocarpene-derived antifungal defense in maize and expand the established diversity of zealexins that are differentially regulated in response to biotic/abiotic stress.

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