The filamentous fungus, Aspergillus niger, responds to nutrient availability by modulating secretion of various substrate degrading hydrolases. This ability has made it an important organism in industrial production of secreted glycoproteins. The recent publication of the A. niger genome sequence and availability of microarrays allow high resolution studies of transcriptional regulation of basal cellular processes, like those of glycoprotein synthesis and secretion. It is known that the activities of certain secretory pathway enzymes involved N-glycosylation are elevated in response to carbon source induced secretion of the glycoprotein glucoamylase. We have investigated whether carbon source dependent enhancement of protein secretion can lead to upregulation of secretory pathway elements extending beyond those involved in N-glycosylation.
This study compares the physiology and transcriptome of A. niger growing at the same specific growth rate (0.16 h-1) on xylose or maltose in carbon-limited chemostat cultures. Transcription profiles were obtained using Affymetrix GeneChip analysis of six replicate cultures for each of the two growth-limiting carbon sources. The production rate of extracellular proteins per gram dry mycelium was about three times higher on maltose compared to xylose. The defined culture conditions resulted in high reproducibility, discriminating even low-fold differences in transcription, which is characteristic of genes encoding basal cellular functions. This included elements in the secretory pathway and central metabolic pathways. Increased protein secretion on maltose was accompanied by induced transcription of > 90 genes related to protein secretion. The upregulated genes encode key elements in protein translocation to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), folding, N-glycosylation, quality control, and vesicle packaging and transport between ER and Golgi. The induction effect of maltose resembles the unfolded protein response (UPR), which results from ER-stress and has previously been defined by treatment with chemicals interfering with folding of glycoproteins or by expression of heterologous proteins.
We show that upregulation of secretory pathway genes also occurs in conditions inducing secretion of endogenous glycoproteins – representing a more normal physiological state. Transcriptional regulation of protein synthesis and secretory pathway genes may thus reflect a general mechanism for modulation of secretion capacity in response to the conditional need for extracellular enzymes.