Cai F, Zhao Z, Gao R, Chen P, Ding M, Jiang S, et al. (2021) The pleiotropic functions of intracellular hydrophobins in aerial hyphae and fungal spores. PLoS Genet 17(11): e1009924. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1009924
Higher fungi can rapidly produce large numbers of spores suitable for aerial dispersal. The efficiency of the dispersal and spore resilience to abiotic stresses correlate with their hydrophobicity provided by the unique amphiphilic and superior surface-active proteins – hydrophobins (HFBs) – that self-assemble at hydrophobic/hydrophilic interfaces and thus modulate surface properties. Using the HFB-enriched mold Trichoderma (Hypocreales, Ascomycota) and the HFB-free yeast Pichia pastoris (Saccharomycetales, Ascomycota), we revealed that the rapid release of HFBs by aerial hyphae shortly prior to conidiation is associated with their intracellular accumulation in vacuoles and/or lipid-enriched organelles. The occasional internalization of the latter organelles in vacuoles can provide the hydrophobic/hydrophilic interface for the assembly of HFB layers and thus result in the formation of HFB-enriched vesicles and vacuolar multicisternal structures (VMSs) putatively lined up by HFBs. These HFB-enriched vesicles and VMSs can become fused in large tonoplast-like organelles or move to the periplasm for secretion. The tonoplast-like structures can contribute to the maintenance of turgor pressure in aerial hyphae supporting the erection of sporogenic structures (e.g., conidiophores) and provide intracellular force to squeeze out HFB-enriched vesicles and VMSs from the periplasm through the cell wall. We also show that the secretion of HFBs occurs prior to the conidiation and reveal that the even spore coating of HFBs deposited in the extracellular matrix requires microscopic water droplets that can be either guttated by the hyphae or obtained from the environment. Furthermore, we demonstrate that at least one HFB, HFB4 in T. guizhouense, is produced and secreted by wetted spores. We show that this protein possibly controls spore dormancy and contributes to the water sensing mechanism required for the detection of germination conditions. Thus, intracellular HFBs have a range of pleiotropic functions in aerial hyphae and spores and are essential for fungal development and fitness.