Ergot alkaloids are pharmaceutically and agriculturally important secondary metabolites produced by several species of fungi. Ergot alkaloid pathways vary among different fungal lineages, but the pathway intermediate chanoclavine-I is evolutionarily conserved among ergot alkaloid producers. At least four genes, dmaW, easF, easE, and easC, are necessary for pathway steps prior to chanoclavine-I; however, the sufficiency of these genes for chanoclavine-I synthesis has not been established. A fragment of genomic DNA containing dmaW, easF, easE, and easC was amplified from the human-pathogenic, ergot alkaloid-producing fungus Aspergillus fumigatus and transformed into Aspergillus nidulans, a model fungus that does not contain any of the ergot alkaloid synthesis genes. HPLC and LC-MS analyses demonstrated that transformed A. nidulans strains produced chanoclavine-I and an earlier pathway intermediate. Aspergillus nidulans transformants containing dmaW, easF, and either easE or easC did not produce chanoclavine-I but did produce an early pathway intermediate and, in the case of the easC transformant, an additional ergot alkaloid-like compound. We conclude that dmaW, easF, easE, and easC are sufficient for the synthesis of chanoclavine-I in A. nidulans and expressing ergot alkaloid pathway genes in A. nidulans provides a novel approach to understanding the early steps in ergot alkaloid synthesis.
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