Manufactured silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs) have long been used as antimicrobials. However, little is known about how these NPs affect fungal cell functions. While multiple previous studies reveal that Ag NPs inhibit secondary metabolite syntheses in several mycotoxin producing filamentous fungi, these effects are associated with growth repression and hence need sublethal to lethal NP doses, which besides stopping fungal growth, can potentially accumulate in the environment. Here we demonstrate that citrate-coated Ag NPs of size 20 nm, when applied at a selected nonlethal dose, can result in a >2 fold inhibition of biosynthesis of the carcinogenic mycotoxin and secondary metabolite, aflatoxin B1 in the filamentous fungus and an important plant pathogen, Aspergillus parasiticus, without inhibiting fungal growth. We also show that the observed inhibition was not due to Ag ions, but was specifically associated with the mycelial uptake of Ag NPs. The NP exposure resulted in a significant decrease in transcript levels of five aflatoxin genes and at least two key global regulators of secondary metabolism, laeA and veA, with a concomitant reduction of total reactive oxygen species (ROS). Finally, the depletion of Ag NPs in the growth medium allowed the fungus to regain completely its ability of aflatoxin biosynthesis. Our results therefore demonstrate the feasibility of Ag NPs to inhibit fungal secondary metabolism at nonlethal concentrations, hence providing a novel starting point for discovery of custom designed engineered nanoparticles that can efficiently prevent mycotoxins with minimal risk to health and environment.
Anindya Chanda · ·