Characterizing co-expression networks underpinning maize stalk rot virulence in Fusarium verticillioides through computational subnetwork module analyses
Fusarium verticillioides is recognized as an important stalk rot pathogen of maize worldwide, but our knowledge of genetic mechanisms underpinning this pathosystem is limited. Previously, we identified a striatin-like protein Fsr1 that plays an important role in stalk rot. To further characterize transcriptome networks downstream of Fsr1, we performed next-generation sequencing (NGS) to investigate relative read abundance and also to infer co-expression networks utilizing the preprocessed expression data through partial correlation. We used a probabilistic pathway activity inference strategy to identify functional subnetwork modules likely involved in virulence. Each subnetwork modules consisted of multiple correlated genes with coordinated expression patterns, but the collective activation levels were significantly different in F. verticillioides wild type versus the mutant. We also identified putative hub genes from predicted subnetworks for functional validation and network robustness studies through mutagenesis, virulence and qPCR studies. Our results suggest that these genes are important virulence genes that regulate the expression of closely correlated genes, demonstrating that these are important hubs of their respective subnetworks. Lastly, we used key F. verticillioides virulence genes to computationally predict a subnetwork of maize genes that potentially respond to fungal genes by applying cointegration-correlation-expression strategy.
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