Phenylpyrrole fungicides act on triosephosphate isomerase to induce methylglyoxal stress and alter hybrid histidine kinase activity.
Fludioxonil, a natural product of pyrrolnitrin, is a potent fungicide used on crops worldwide. Drug action requires the presence of a group III hybrid histidine kinase (HHK) and the high osmolarity glycerol (HOG) pathway. We have reported that the drug does not act directly on HHK, but triggers the conversion of the kinase to a phosphatase, which dephosphorylates Ypd1 to constitutively activate HOG signaling. Still, the direct drug target remains unknown and mode of action ill defined. Here, we heterologously expressed a group III HHK, dimorphism-regulating kinase 1 (Drk1) in Saccharomyces cerevisae to delineate fludioxonil's target and action. We show that the drug interferes with triosephosphate isomerase (TPI) causing release of methylglyoxal (MG). MG activates the group III HHK and thus the HOG pathway. Drug action involved Drk1 cysteine 392, as a C392S substitution increased drug resistance in vivo. Drug sensitivity was reversed by dimedone treatment, indicating Drk1 responds in vivo to an aldehydic stress. Fludioxonil treatment triggered elevated cytosolic methylglyoxal. Likewise, methylglyoxal treatment of Drk1-expressing yeast phenocopied treatment with fludioxonil. Fludioxonil directly inhibited TPI and also caused it to release methylglyoxal in vitro. Thus, TPI is a drug target of the phenylpyrrole class of fungicides, inducing elevated MG which alters HHK activity, likely converting the kinase to a phosphatase that acts on Ypd1 to trigger HOG pathway activation and fungal cell death.