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1.  Impact of Recently Emerged Sterol 14α-Demethylase (CYP51) Variants of Mycosphaerella graminicola on Azole Fungicide Sensitivity▿ 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(11):3830-3837.
The progressive decline in the effectiveness of some azole fungicides in controlling Mycosphaerella graminicola, causal agent of the damaging Septoria leaf blotch disease of wheat, has been correlated with the selection and spread in the pathogen population of specific mutations in the M. graminicola CYP51 (MgCYP51) gene encoding the azole target sterol 14α-demethylase. Recent studies have suggested that the emergence of novel MgCYP51 variants, often harboring substitution S524T, has contributed to a decrease in the efficacy of prothioconazole and epoxiconazole, the two currently most effective azole fungicides against M. graminicola. In this study, we establish which amino acid alterations in novel MgCYP51 variants have the greatest impact on azole sensitivity and protein function. We introduced individual and combinations of identified alterations by site-directed mutagenesis and functionally determined their impact on azole sensitivity by expression in a Saccharomyces cerevisiae mutant YUG37::erg11 carrying a regulatable promoter controlling native CYP51 expression. We demonstrate that substitution S524T confers decreased sensitivity to all azoles when introduced alone or in combination with Y461S. In addition, S524T restores the function in S. cerevisiae of MgCYP51 variants carrying the otherwise lethal alterations Y137F and V136A. Sensitivity tests of S. cerevisiae transformants expressing recently emerged MgCYP51 variants carrying combinations of alterations D134G, V136A, Y461S, and S524T reveal a substantial impact on sensitivity to the currently most widely used azoles, including epoxiconazole and prothioconazole. Finally, we exploit a recently developed model of the MgCYP51 protein to predict that the substantial structural changes caused by these novel combinations reduce azole interactions with critical residues in the binding cavity, thereby causing resistance.
PMCID: PMC3127603  PMID: 21478305
2.  Prothioconazole and Prothioconazole-Desthio Activities against Candida albicans Sterol 14-α-Demethylase 
Prothioconazole is a new triazolinthione fungicide used in agriculture. We have used Candida albicans CYP51 (CaCYP51) to investigate the in vitro activity of prothioconazole and to consider the use of such compounds in the medical arena. Treatment of C. albicans cells with prothioconazole, prothioconazole-desthio, and voriconazole resulted in CYP51 inhibition, as evidenced by the accumulation of 14α-methylated sterol substrates (lanosterol and eburicol) and the depletion of ergosterol. We then compared the inhibitor binding properties of prothioconazole, prothioconazole-desthio, and voriconazole with CaCYP51. We observed that prothioconazole-desthio and voriconazole bind noncompetitively to CaCYP51 in the expected manner of azole antifungals (with type II inhibitors binding to heme as the sixth ligand), while prothioconazole binds competitively and does not exhibit classic inhibitor binding spectra. Inhibition of CaCYP51 activity in a cell-free assay demonstrated that prothioconazole-desthio is active, whereas prothioconazole does not inhibit CYP51 activity. Extracts from C. albicans grown in the presence of prothioconazole were found to contain prothioconazole-desthio. We conclude that the antifungal action of prothioconazole can be attributed to prothioconazole-desthio.
PMCID: PMC3591943  PMID: 23275516
3.  Heterologous Expression of Mutated Eburicol 14α-Demethylase (CYP51) Proteins of Mycosphaerella graminicola To Assess Effects on Azole Fungicide Sensitivity and Intrinsic Protein Function▿  
The recent decrease in the sensitivity of the Western European population of the wheat pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola to azole fungicides has been associated with the emergence and subsequent spread of mutations in the CYP51 gene, encoding the azole target sterol 14α-demethylase. In this study, we have expressed wild-type and mutated M. graminicola CYP51 (MgCYP51) variants in a Saccharomyces cerevisiae mutant carrying a doxycycline-regulatable tetO7-CYC promoter controlling native CYP51 expression. We have shown that the wild-type MgCYP51 protein complements the function of the orthologous protein in S. cerevisiae. Mutant MgCYP51 proteins containing amino acid alterations L50S, Y459D, and Y461H and the two-amino-acid deletion ΔY459/G460, commonly identified in modern M. graminicola populations, have no effect on the capacity of the M. graminicola protein to function in S. cerevisiae. We have also shown that the azole fungicide sensitivities of transformants expressing MgCYP51 variants with these alterations are substantially reduced. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that the I381V substitution, correlated with the recent decline in the effectiveness of azoles, destroys the capacity of MgCYP51 to complement the S. cerevisiae mutant when introduced alone. However, when I381V is combined with changes between residues Y459 and Y461, the function of the M. graminicola protein is partially restored. These findings demonstrate, for the first time for a plant pathogenic fungus, the impacts that naturally occurring CYP51 alterations have on both azole sensitivity and intrinsic protein function. In addition, we also provide functional evidence underlying the order in which CYP51 alterations in the Western European M. graminicola population emerged.
PMCID: PMC2863451  PMID: 20305029
4.  ABC Transporters and Azole Susceptibility in Laboratory Strains of the Wheat Pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola 
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2002;46(12):3900-3906.
Laboratory strains of Mycosphaerella graminicola with decreased susceptibilities to the azole antifungal agent cyproconazole showed a multidrug resistance phenotype by exhibiting cross-resistance to an unrelated chemical, cycloheximide or rhodamine 6G, or both. Decreased azole susceptibility was found to be associated with either decreased or increased levels of accumulation of cyproconazole. No specific relationship could be observed between azole susceptibility and the expression of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter genes MgAtr1 to MgAtr5 and the sterol P450 14α-demethylase gene, CYP51. ABC transporter MgAtr1 was identified as a determinant in azole susceptibility since heterologous expression of the protein reduced the azole susceptibility of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and disruption of MgAtr1 in one specific M. graminicola laboratory strain with constitutive MgAtr1 overexpression restored the level of susceptibility to cyproconazole to wild-type levels. However, the level of accumulation in the mutant with an MgAtr1 disruption did not revert to the wild-type level. We propose that variations in azole susceptibility in laboratory strains of M. graminicola are mediated by multiple mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC132773  PMID: 12435694
5.  Molecular Modelling of the Emergence of Azole Resistance in Mycosphaerella graminicola 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20973.
A structural rationale for recent emergence of azole (imidazole and triazole) resistance associated with CYP51 mutations in the wheat pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola is presented, attained by homology modelling of the wild type protein and 13 variant proteins. The novel molecular models of M. graminicola CYP51 are based on multiple homologues, individually identified for each variant, rather than using a single structural scaffold, providing a robust structure-function rationale for the binding of azoles, including important fungal specific regions for which no structural information is available. The wild type binding pocket reveals specific residues in close proximity to the bound azole molecules that are subject to alteration in the variants. This implicates azole ligands as important agents exerting selection on specific regions bordering the pocket, that become the focus of genetic mutation events, leading to reduced sensitivity to that group of related compounds. Collectively, the models account for several observed functional effects of specific alterations, including loss of triadimenol sensitivity in the Y137F variant, lower sensitivity to tebuconazole of I381V variants and increased resistance to prochloraz of V136A variants. Deletion of Y459 and G460, which brings about removal of that entire section of beta turn from the vicinity of the binding pocket, confers resistance to tebuconazole and epoxiconazole, but sensitivity to prochloraz in variants carrying a combination of A379G I381V ΔY459/G460. Measurements of binding pocket volume proved useful in assessment of scope for general resistance to azoles by virtue of their accommodation without bonding interaction, particularly when combined with analysis of change in positions of key amino acids. It is possible to predict the likely binding orientation of an azole molecule in any of the variant CYPs, providing potential for an in silico screening system and reliable predictive approach to assess the probability of particular variants exhibiting resistance to particular azole fungicides.
PMCID: PMC3124474  PMID: 21738598
6.  Azole Binding Properties of Candida albicans Sterol 14-α Demethylase (CaCYP51)▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2010;54(10):4235-4245.
Purified Candida albicans sterol 14-α demethylase (CaCYP51) bound the CYP51 substrates lanosterol and eburicol, producing type I binding spectra with Ks values of 11 and 25 μM, respectively, and a Km value of 6 μM for lanosterol. Azole binding to CaCYP51 was “tight” with both the type II spectral intensity (ΔAmax) and the azole concentration required to obtain a half-ΔAmax being proportional to the CaCYP51 concentration. Tight binding of fluconazole and itraconazole was confirmed by 50% inhibitory concentration determinations from CYP51 reconstitution assays. CaCYP51 had similar affinities for clotrimazole, econazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, and voriconazole, with Kd values of 10 to 26 μM under oxidative conditions, compared with 47 μM for fluconazole. The affinities of CaCYP51 for fluconazole and itraconazole appeared to be 4- and 2-fold lower based on CO displacement studies than those when using direct ligand binding under oxidative conditions. Econazole and miconazole were most readily displaced by carbon monoxide, followed by clotrimazole, ketoconazole, and fluconazole, and then voriconazole (7.8 pmol min−1), but itraconzole could not be displaced by carbon monoxide. This work reports in depth the characterization of the azole binding properties of wild-type C. albicans CYP51, including that of voriconazole, and will contribute to effective screening of new therapeutic azole antifungal agents. Preliminary comparative studies with the I471T CaCYP51 protein suggested that fluconazole resistance conferred by this mutation was through a combination of increased turnover, increased affinity for substrate, and a reduced affinity for fluconazole in the presence of substrate, allowing the enzyme to remain functionally active, albeit at reduced velocity, at higher fluconazole concentrations.
PMCID: PMC2944560  PMID: 20625155
7.  Control of Mycosphaerella graminicola on Wheat Seedlings by Medical Drugs Known To Modulate the Activity of ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2007;73(15):5011-5019.
Medical drugs known to modulate the activity of human ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter proteins (modulators) were tested for the ability to potentiate the activity of the azole fungicide cyproconazole against in vitro growth of Mycosphaerella graminicola and to control disease development due to this pathogen on wheat seedlings. In vitro modulation of cyproconazole activity could be demonstrated in paper disk bioassays. Some of the active modulators (amitriptyline, flavanone, and phenothiazines) increased the accumulation of cyproconazole in M. graminicola, suggesting that they reversed cyproconazole efflux. However, synergism between cyproconazole and modulators against M. graminicola on wheat seedlings could not be shown. Despite their low in vitro toxicity to M. graminicola, some modulators (amitriptyline, loperamide, and promazine) did show significant intrinsic disease control activity in preventive and curative foliar spray tests with wheat seedlings. The results suggest that these compounds have indirect disease control activity based on modulation of fungal ABC transporters essential for virulence and constitute a new class of disease control agents.
PMCID: PMC1951022  PMID: 17545327
8.  Heterologous Expression and Characterization of the Sterol 14α-Demethylase CYP51F1 from Candida albicans 
Lanosterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51F1) from Candida albicans is known to be an essential enzyme in fungal sterol biosynthesis. Wild-type CYP51F1 and several of its mutants were heterologously expressed in Escherichia coli, purified, and characterized. It exhibited a typical reduced CO-difference spectrum with a maximum at 446 nm. Reconstitution of CYP51F1 with NADPH-P450 reductase gave a system that successfully converted lanosterol to its demethylated product. Titration of the purified enzyme with lanosterol produced a typical type I spectral change with Kd = 6.7 μM. The azole antifungal agents econazole, fluconazole, ketoconazole, and itraconazole bound tightly to CYP51F1 with Kd values between 0.06 – 0.42 μM. The CYP51F1 mutations F105L, D116E, Y132H, and R467K frequently identified in clinical isolates were examined to determine their effect on azole drug binding affinity. The azole Kd values of the purified F105L, D116E, and R467K mutants were little altered. A homology model of C. albicans CYP51F1 suggested that Tyr132 in the BC loop is located close to the heme in the active site, providing a rationale for the modified heme environment caused by the Y132H substitution. Taken together, functional expression and characterization of CYP51F1 provide a starting basis for design of agents effective against C. albicans infections.
PMCID: PMC3079055  PMID: 21315684
P450; CYP51; lanosterol; azole; Candida albicans
9.  Three-Dimensional Models of Wild-Type and Mutated Forms of Cytochrome P450 14α-Sterol Demethylases from Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans Provide Insights into Posaconazole Binding 
The cytochrome P450 sterol 14α-demethylase enzyme (CYP51) is the target of azole antifungals. Azoles block ergosterol synthesis, and thereby fungal growth, by binding in the active-site cavity of the enzyme and ligating the iron atom of the heme cofactor through a nitrogen atom of the azole. Mutations in and around the CYP51 active site have resulted in azole resistance. In this work, homology models of the CYP51 enzymes from Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans were constructed based on the X-ray crystal structure of CYP51 from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Using these models, binding modes for voriconazole (VOR), fluconazole (FLZ), itraconazole (ITZ), and posaconazole (POS) were predicted from docking calculations. Previous work had demonstrated that mutations in the vicinity of the heme cofactor had a greater impact on the binding of FLZ and VOR than on the binding of POS and ITZ. Our modeling data suggest that the long side chains of POS and ITZ occupy a specific channel within CYP51 and that this additional interaction, which is not available to VOR and FLZ, serves to stabilize the binding of these azoles to the mutated CYP51 proteins. The model also predicts that mutations that were previously shown to specifically impact POS susceptibility in A. fumigatus and C. albicans act by interfering with the binding of the long side chain.
PMCID: PMC321559  PMID: 14742211
10.  Expression, Purification, and Characterization of Aspergillus fumigatus Sterol 14-α Demethylase (CYP51) Isoenzymes A and B▿  
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy  2010;54(10):4225-4234.
Aspergillus fumigatus sterol 14-α demethylase (CYP51) isoenzymes A (AF51A) and B (AF51B) were expressed in Escherichia coli and purified. The dithionite-reduced CO-P450 complex for AF51A was unstable, rapidly denaturing to inactive P420, in marked contrast to AF51B, where the CO-P450 complex was stable. Type I substrate binding spectra were obtained with purified AF51B using lanosterol (Ks, 8.6 μM) and eburicol (Ks, 22.6 μM). Membrane suspensions of AF51A bound to both lanosterol (Ks, 3.1 μM) and eburicol (Ks, 4.1 μM). The binding of azoles, with the exception of fluconazole, to AF51B was tight, with the Kd (dissociation constant) values for clotrimazole, itraconazole, posaconazole, and voriconazole being 0.21, 0.06, 0.12, and 0.42 μM, respectively, in comparison with a Kd value of 4 μM for fluconazole. Characteristic type II azole binding spectra were obtained with AF51B, whereas an additional trough and a blue-shifted spectral peak were present in AF51A binding spectra for all azoles except clotrimazole. This suggests two distinct azole binding conformations within the heme prosthetic group of AF51A. All five azoles bound relatively weakly to AF51A, with Kd values ranging from 1 μM for itraconazole to 11.9 μM for fluconazole. The azole binding properties of purified AF51A and AF51B suggest an explanation for the intrinsic azole (fluconazole) resistance observed in Aspergillus fumigatus.
PMCID: PMC2944604  PMID: 20660663
11.  Defining the Predicted Protein Secretome of the Fungal Wheat Leaf Pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e49904.
The Dothideomycete fungus Mycosphaerella graminicola is the causal agent of Septoria tritici blotch, a devastating disease of wheat leaves that causes dramatic decreases in yield. Infection involves an initial extended period of symptomless intercellular colonisation prior to the development of visible necrotic disease lesions. Previous functional genomics and gene expression profiling studies have implicated the production of secreted virulence effector proteins as key facilitators of the initial symptomless growth phase. In order to identify additional candidate virulence effectors, we re-analysed and catalogued the predicted protein secretome of M. graminicola isolate IPO323, which is currently regarded as the reference strain for this species. We combined several bioinformatic approaches in order to increase the probability of identifying truly secreted proteins with either a predicted enzymatic function or an as yet unknown function. An initial secretome of 970 proteins was predicted, whilst further stringent selection criteria predicted 492 proteins. Of these, 321 possess some functional annotation, the composition of which may reflect the strictly intercellular growth habit of this pathogen, leaving 171 with no functional annotation. This analysis identified a protein family encoding secreted peroxidases/chloroperoxidases (PF01328) which is expanded within all members of the family Mycosphaerellaceae. Further analyses were done on the non-annotated proteins for size and cysteine content (effector protein hallmarks), and then by studying the distribution of homologues in 17 other sequenced Dothideomycete fungi within an overall total of 91 predicted proteomes from fungal, oomycete and nematode species. This detailed M. graminicola secretome analysis provides the basis for further functional and comparative genomics studies.
PMCID: PMC3517617  PMID: 23236356
12.  Three-Dimensional Model of Lanosterol 14α-Demethylase from Cryptococcus neoformans: Active-Site Characterization and Insights into Azole Binding ▿ †  
Cryptococcus neoformans is one of the most important causes of life-threatening fungal infections in immunocompromised patients. Lanosterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) is the target of azole antifungal agents. This study describes, for the first time, the 3-dimensional model of CYP51 from Cryptococcus neoformans (CnCYP51). The model was further refined by energy minimization and molecular-dynamics simulations. The active site of CnCYP51 was well characterized by multiple-copy simultaneous-search calculations, and four functional regions important for rational drug design were identified. The mode of binding of the natural substrate and azole antifungal agents with CnCYP51 was identified by flexible molecular docking. A G484S substitution mechanism for azole resistance in CnCYP51, which might be important for the conformation of the heme environment, is suggested.
PMCID: PMC2715644  PMID: 19470512
13.  Amino Acid Substitutions in the Cytochrome P-450 Lanosterol 14α-Demethylase (CYP51A1) from Azole-Resistant Candida albicans Clinical Isolates Contribute to Resistance to Azole Antifungal Agents 
The cytochrome P-450 lanosterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51A1) of yeasts is involved in an important step in the biosynthesis of ergosterol. Since CYP51A1 is the target of azole antifungal agents, this enzyme is potentially prone to alterations leading to resistance to these agents. Among them, a decrease in the affinity of CYP51A1 for these agents is possible. We showed in a group of Candida albicans isolates from AIDS patients that multidrug efflux transporters were playing an important role in the resistance of C. albicans to azole antifungal agents, but without excluding the involvement of other factors (D. Sanglard, K. Kuchler, F. Ischer, J.-L. Pagani, M. Monod, and J. Bille, Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 39:2378–2386, 1995). We therefore analyzed in closer detail changes in the affinity of CYP51A1 for azole antifungal agents. A strategy consisting of functional expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae of the C. albicans CYP51A1 genes of sequential clinical isolates from patients was designed. This selection, which was coupled with a test of susceptibility to the azole derivatives fluconazole, ketoconazole, and itraconazole, enabled the detection of mutations in different cloned CYP51A1 genes, whose products are potentially affected in their affinity for azole derivatives. This selection enabled the detection of five different mutations in the cloned CYP51A1 genes which correlated with the occurrence of azole resistance in clinical C. albicans isolates. These mutations were as follows: replacement of the glycine at position 129 with alanine (G129A), Y132H, S405F, G464S, and R467K. While the S405F mutation was found as a single amino acid substitution in a CYP51A1 gene from an azole-resistant yeast, other mutations were found simultaneously in individual CYP51A1 genes, i.e., R467K with G464S, S405F with Y132H, G129A with G464S, and R467K with G464S and Y132H. Site-directed mutagenesis of a wild-type CYP51A1 gene was performed to estimate the effect of each of these mutations on resistance to azole derivatives. Each single mutation, with the exception of G129A, had a measurable effect on the affinity of the target enzyme for specific azole derivatives. We speculate that these specific mutations could combine with the effect of multidrug efflux transporters in the clinical isolates and contribute to different patterns and stepwise increases in resistance to azole derivatives.
PMCID: PMC105395  PMID: 9527767
14.  CYP51 structures and structure-based development of novel, pathogen-specific inhibitory scaffolds 
Graphical abstract
► CYP51s (sterol 14alpha-demethylases) are efficient drug target enzymes. ► CYP51s have a highly rigid substrate binding cavity. ► CYP51 structure-based development of a new inhibitory scaffold is described.
CYP51 (sterol 14α-demethylase) is a cytochrome P450 enzyme essential for sterol biosynthesis and the primary target for clinical and agricultural antifungal azoles. The azoles that are currently in clinical use for systemic fungal infections represent modifications of two basic scaffolds, ketoconazole and fluconazole, all of them being selected based on their antiparasitic activity in cellular experiments. By studying direct inhibition of CYP51 activity across phylogeny including human pathogens Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Leishmania infantum, we identified three novel protozoa-specific inhibitory scaffolds, their inhibitory potency correlating well with antiprotozoan activity. VNI scaffold (carboxamide containing β-phenyl-imidazoles) is the most promising among them: killing T. cruzi amastigotes at low nanomolar concentration, it is also easy to synthesize and nontoxic. Oral administration of VNI (up to 400 mg/kg) neither leads to mortality nor reveals significant side effects up to 48 h post treatment using an experimental mouse model of acute toxicity. Trypanosomatidae CYP51 crystal structures determined in the ligand-free state and complexed with several azole inhibitors as well as a substrate analog revealed high rigidity of the CYP51 substrate binding cavity, which must be essential for the enzyme strict substrate specificity and functional conservation. Explaining profound potency of the VNI inhibitory scaffold, the structures also outline guidelines for its further development. First steps of the VNI scaffold optimization have been undertaken; the results presented here support the notion that CYP51 structure-based rational design of more efficient, pathogen-specific inhibitors represents a highly promising direction.
PMCID: PMC3596085  PMID: 23504044
Sterol 14α-demethylase; CYP51; Inhibition; Crystal structure
15.  The R467K Amino Acid Substitution in Candida albicans Sterol 14α-Demethylase Causes Drug Resistance through Reduced Affinity 
The cytochrome P450 sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) of Candida albicans is involved in an essential step of ergosterol biosynthesis and is the target for azole antifungal compounds. We have undertaken site-directed mutation of C. albicans CYP51 to produce a recombinant mutant protein with the amino acid substitution R467K corresponding to a mutation observed clinically. This alteration perturbed the heme environment causing an altered reduced-carbon monoxide difference spectrum with a maximum at 452 nm and reduced the affinity of the enzyme for fluconazole, as shown by ligand binding studies. The specific activity of CYP51(R467K) for the release of formic acid from 3β-[32-3H]hydroxylanost-7-en-32-ol was 70 pmol/nmol of P450/min for microsomal protein compared to 240 pmol/nmol of P450/min for microsomal fractions expressing wild-type CYP51. Furthermore, inhibition of activity by fluconazole revealed a 7.5-fold-greater azole resistance of the recombinant protein than that of the wild type. This study demonstrates that resistance observed clinically can result from the altered azole affinity of the fungal CYP51 enzyme.
PMCID: PMC89629  PMID: 10602724
16.  Synthesis and Antifungal Activity of Metal Complexes Containing Dichloro-Tetramorpholino-Cyclophosphazatriene 
Metal-Based Drugs  1998;5(5):287-294.
Metal complexes of dichloro-tetramorpholino-cyclophosphazatriene containing divalent cations such as Ni(II), Co(II), and Mn(II) have been prepared and characterised by standard physico-chemical procedures (elemental chemical analysis, IR and UV-VIS spectra, conductimetric measurement). The newly synthesised compounds possessed antifungal activity against Aspergillus and Candida spp., some of them showing effects comparable to ketoconazole (with minimum inhibitory concentrations in the range of 2- 30 μg/mL) but being generally less active as compared to the azole. Best activity was detected against C. albicans, and worst activity against A. niger. The mechanism of action of these compounds probably involves inhibition of ergosterol biosynthesis, and interaction with lanosterol-14-α-demethylase (CYP51A1), since reduced amounts of ergosterol were evidenced by means of HPLC in cultures of the sensitive strain A. niger treated with some of these inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2365132  PMID: 18475860
17.  Whole-Genome and Chromosome Evolution Associated with Host Adaptation and Speciation of the Wheat Pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(12):e1001189.
The fungus Mycosphaerella graminicola has been a pathogen of wheat since host domestication 10,000–12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. The wheat-infecting lineage emerged from closely related Mycosphaerella pathogens infecting wild grasses. We use a comparative genomics approach to assess how the process of host specialization affected the genome structure of M. graminicola since divergence from the closest known progenitor species named M. graminicola S1. The genome of S1 was obtained by Illumina sequencing resulting in a 35 Mb draft genome sequence of 32X. Assembled contigs were aligned to the previously sequenced M. graminicola genome. The alignment covered >90% of the non-repetitive portion of the M. graminicola genome with an average divergence of 7%. The sequenced M. graminicola strain is known to harbor thirteen essential chromosomes plus eight dispensable chromosomes. We found evidence that structural rearrangements significantly affected the dispensable chromosomes while the essential chromosomes were syntenic. At the nucleotide level, the essential and dispensable chromosomes have evolved differently. The average synonymous substitution rate in dispensable chromosomes is considerably lower than in essential chromosomes, whereas the average non-synonymous substitution rate is three times higher. Differences in molecular evolution can be related to different transmission and recombination patterns, as well as to differences in effective population sizes of essential and dispensable chromosomes. In order to identify genes potentially involved in host specialization or speciation, we calculated ratios of synonymous and non-synonymous substitution rates in the >9,500 aligned protein coding genes. The genes are generally under strong purifying selection. We identified 43 candidate genes showing evidence of positive selection, one encoding a potential pathogen effector protein. We conclude that divergence of these pathogens was accompanied by structural rearrangements in the small dispensable chromosomes, while footprints of positive selection were present in only a small number of protein coding genes.
Author Summary
The fungal wheat pathogen Mycosphaerella graminicola emerged in the Middle East 11,000 years ago, coinciding with host domestication. We sequenced the genome of the closest known endemic relative of M. graminicola infecting wild grass hosts. A comparative genome analysis allowed us to infer how speciation and host specialization processes have influenced pathogen evolution. The wild grass-adapted pathogen can infect wheat, but M. graminicola shows a significantly higher degree of host specificity and virulence in a detached leaf assay. The genomes of the pathogens are 7% divergent with a high degree of synteny in the 13 essential core chromosomes. However, structural rearrangements have strongly affected eight small dispensable chromosomes. These chromosomes also show altered rates of non-synonymous and synonymous substitutions. We found 43 genes showing evidence of positive selection. As the divergence of species occurred very recently, these genes are likely involved in host specialization or speciation. None of the genes have a known function, although one encodes a signal peptide and is a potential pathogen effector. We conclude that the genomic basis of the rapid emergence of the wheat-specialized pathogen M. graminicola has involved structural changes in the eight dispensable chromosomes and positive selection in a small number of genes.
PMCID: PMC3009667  PMID: 21203495
18.  The Candida albicans Lanosterol 14-α-Demethylase (ERG11) Gene Promoter Is Maximally Induced after Prolonged Growth with Antifungal Drugs 
The azole antifungal drugs that target lanosterol 14-α-demethylase, encoded by the ERG11 gene, are used to treat a variety of infections caused by Candida albicans. Azoles are known to induce expression of ERG11 mRNA. The ERG11 promoter was cloned 5′ of the luciferase-coding region, and the induction of ERG11 expression by azoles was monitored by luciferase assays. Maximal induction of the ERG11 promoter by azoles occurs not during logarithmic growth but after the diauxic shift and requires azoles to be present throughout logarithmic growth. The effects of pH, carbon source, and aerobic or anaerobic growth on induction of the ERG11 promoter by azoles were analyzed. Treatment with terbinafine and fenpropimorph, which target other enzymes in the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway, also resulted in a delayed induction of ERG11 promoter activity. Nascent sterol synthesis was shown to parallel ERG11 promoter activity, and total sterols were reduced coincident with the timing of ERG11 promoter activation. These results as a whole suggest that expression of the ERG11 promoter is regulated in response to sterol depletion.
PMCID: PMC375326  PMID: 15047513
19.  A mutation in the 14 alpha-demethylase gene of Uncinula necator that correlates with resistance to a sterol biosynthesis inhibitor. 
We investigated the molecular basis of resistance of the obligate biotrophic grape powdery mildew fungus Uncinula necator to sterol demethylation-inhibiting fungicides (DMIs). The sensitivity of 91 single-spore field isolates of U. necator to triadimenol was assessed by using a leaf disc assay. Resistance factors (RF) ranged from 1.8 to 26.0. The gene encoding the target of DMIs (eburicol 14 alpha-demethylase) from five sensitive and seven resistant isolates was cloned and sequenced. A single mutation, leading to the substitution of a phenylalanine residue for a tyrosine residue at position 136, was found in all isolates exhibiting an RF higher than 5. No mutation was found in sensitive or weakly resistant (RF, < 5) isolates. An allele-specific PCR assay was developed to detect the mutation. Among the 91 isolates tested, only isolates with RF higher than 5 carried the mutation. Three of the 19 resistant isolates and all sensitive and weakly resistant isolates did not possess the mutation. The mutation at codon 136 is thus clearly associated with high levels of resistance to triadimenol.
PMCID: PMC168594  PMID: 9251183
20.  S279 Point Mutations in Candida albicans Sterol 14-α Demethylase (CYP51) Reduce In Vitro Inhibition by Fluconazole 
The effects of S279F and S279Y point mutations in Candida albicans CYP51 (CaCYP51) on protein activity and on substrate (lanosterol) and azole antifungal binding were investigated. Both S279F and S279Y mutants bound lanosterol with 2-fold increased affinities (Ks, 7.1 and 8.0 μM, respectively) compared to the wild-type CaCYP51 protein (Ks, 13.5 μM). The S279F and S279Y mutants and the wild-type CaCYP51 protein bound fluconazole, voriconazole, and itraconazole tightly, producing typical type II binding spectra. However, the S279F and S279Y mutants had 4- to 5-fold lower affinities for fluconazole, 3.5-fold lower affinities for voriconazole, and 3.5- to 4-fold lower affinities for itraconazole than the wild-type CaCYP51 protein. The S279F and S279Y mutants gave 2.3- and 2.8-fold higher 50% inhibitory concentrations (IC50s) for fluconazole in a CYP51 reconstitution assay than the wild-type protein did. The increased fluconazole resistance conferred by the S279F and S279Y point mutations appeared to be mediated through a combination of a higher affinity for substrate and a lower affinity for fluconazole. In addition, lanosterol displaced fluconazole from the S279F and S279Y mutants but not from the wild-type protein. Molecular modeling of the wild-type protein indicated that the oxygen atom of S507 interacts with the second triazole ring of fluconazole, assisting in orientating fluconazole so that a more favorable binding conformation to heme is achieved. In contrast, in the two S279 mutant proteins, this S507-fluconazole interaction is absent, providing an explanation for the higher Kd values observed.
PMCID: PMC3318376  PMID: 22252802
21.  A Nonazole CYP51 Inhibitor Cures Chagas’ Disease in a Mouse Model of Acute Infection▿ †  
Chagas’ disease, the leading cause of heart failure in Latin America, is caused by the kinetoplastid protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi. The sterols of T. cruzi resemble those of fungi, both in composition and in biosynthesis. Azole inhibitors of sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) successfully treat fungal infections in humans, and efforts to adapt the success of antifungal azoles posaconazole and ravuconazole as second-use agents for Chagas’ disease are under way. However, to address concerns about the use of azoles for Chagas’ disease, including drug resistance and cost, the rational design of nonazole CYP51 inhibitors can provide promising alternative drug chemotypes. We report the curative effect of the nonazole CYP51 inhibitor LP10 in an acute mouse model of T. cruzi infection. Mice treated with an oral dose of 40 mg LP10/kg of body weight twice a day (BID) for 30 days, initiated 24 h postinfection, showed no signs of acute disease and had histologically normal tissues after 6 months. A very stringent test of cure showed that 4/5 mice had negative PCR results for T. cruzi, and parasites were amplified by hemoculture in only two treated mice. These results compare favorably with those reported for posaconazole. Electron microscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of sterol composition confirmed that treatment with LP10 blocked the 14α-demethylation step and induced breakdown of parasite cell membranes, culminating in severe ultrastructural and morphological alterations and death of the clinically relevant amastigote stage of the parasite.
PMCID: PMC2876414  PMID: 20385875
22.  Structural Characterization of CYP51 from Trypanosoma cruzi and Trypanosoma brucei Bound to the Antifungal Drugs Posaconazole and Fluconazole 
Chagas Disease is the leading cause of heart failure in Latin America. Current drug therapy is limited by issues of both efficacy and severe side effects. Trypansoma cruzi, the protozoan agent of Chagas Disease, is closely related to two other major global pathogens, Leishmania spp., responsible for leishmaniasis, and Trypansoma brucei, the causative agent of African Sleeping Sickness. Both T. cruzi and Leishmania parasites have an essential requirement for ergosterol, and are thus vulnerable to inhibitors of sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51), which catalyzes the conversion of lanosterol to ergosterol. Clinically employed anti-fungal azoles inhibit ergosterol biosynthesis in fungi, and specific azoles are also effective against both Trypanosoma and Leishmania parasites. However, modification of azoles to enhance efficacy and circumvent potential drug resistance has been problematic for both parasitic and fungal infections due to the lack of structural insights into drug binding.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We have determined the crystal structures for CYP51 from T. cruzi (resolutions of 2.35 Å and 2.27 Å), and from the related pathogen T. brucei (resolutions of 2.7 Å and 2.6 Å), co-crystallized with the antifungal drugs fluconazole and posaconazole. Remarkably, both drugs adopt multiple conformations when binding the target. The fluconazole 2,4-difluorophenyl ring flips 180° depending on the H-bonding interactions with the BC-loop. The terminus of the long functional tail group of posaconazole is bound loosely in the mouth of the hydrophobic substrate binding tunnel, suggesting that the major contribution of the tail to drug efficacy is for pharmacokinetics rather than in interactions with the target.
The structures provide new insights into binding of azoles to CYP51 and mechanisms of potential drug resistance. Our studies define in structural detail the CYP51 therapeutic target in T. cruzi, and offer a starting point for rationally designed anti-Chagasic drugs with improved efficacy and reduced toxicity.
Author Summary
Chagas Disease is caused by kinetoplastid protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi, whose sterols resemble those of fungi, in both composition and biosynthetic pathway. Azole inhibitors of sterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51), such as fluconazole, itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole, successfully treat fungal infections in humans. Efforts have been made to translate anti-fungal azoles into a second-use application for Chagas Disease. Ravuconazole and posaconazole have been recently proposed as candidates for clinical trials with Chagas Disease patients. However, the widespread use of posaconazole for long-term treatment of chronic infections may be limited by hepatic and renal toxicity, a requirement for simultaneous intake of a fatty meal or nutritional supplement to enhance absorption, and cost. To aid our search for structurally and synthetically simple CYP51 inhibitors, we have determined the crystal structures of the CYP51 targets in T. cruzi and T. brucei, both bound to the anti-fungal drugs fluconazole or posaconazole. The structures provide a basis for a design of new drugs targeting Chagas Disease, and also make it possible to model the active site characteristics of the highly homologous Leishmania CYP51. This work provides a foundation for rational synthesis of new therapeutic agents targeting the three kinetoplastid parasites.
PMCID: PMC2850312  PMID: 20386598
23.  Detection of Mycosphaerella graminicola in Wheat Leaves by a Microsatellite Dinucleotide Specific-Primer 
Early detection of infection is very important for efficient management of Mycosphaerella graminicola leaf blotch. To monitor and quantify the occurrence of this fungus during the growing season, a diagnostic method based on real-time PCR was developed. Standard and real-time PCR assays were developed using SYBR Green chemistry to quantify M. graminicola in vitro or in wheat samples. Microsatellite dinucleotide specific-primers were designed based on microsatellite repeats of sequences present in the genome of M. graminicola. Specificity was checked by analyzing DNA of 55 M. graminicola isolates obtained from different geographical origins. The method appears to be highly specific for detecting M. graminicola; no fluorescent signals were observed from 14 other closely related taxa. Primer (CT) 7 G amplified a specific amplicon of 570 bp from all M. graminicola isolates. The primers did not amplify DNA extracted from 14 other fungal species. The approximate melting temperature (Tm) of the (CT) 7 G primer was 84.2 °C. The detection limit of the real-time PCR assay with the primer sets (CT) 7 G is 10 fg/25 μL, as compared to 10 pg/25 μL using conventional PCR technology. From symptomless leaves, a PCR fragment could be generated two days after inoculation. Both conventional and real-time PCR could successfully detect the fungus from artificially inoculated wheat leaves. However, real-time PCR appeared much more sensitive than conventional PCR. The developed quantitative real-time PCR method proved to be rapid, sensitive, specific, cost-effective and reliable for the identification and quantification of M. graminicola in wheat.
PMCID: PMC3039974  PMID: 21340008
Septoria tritici blotch; microsatellite; wheat; Dothidiomycete; molecular diagnostics
24.  A Gain-of-Function Mutation in the Transcription Factor Upc2p Causes Upregulation of Ergosterol Biosynthesis Genes and Increased Fluconazole Resistance in a Clinical Candida albicans Isolate▿ †  
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;7(7):1180-1190.
In the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans, the zinc cluster transcription factor Upc2p has been shown to regulate the expression of ERG11 and other genes involved in ergosterol biosynthesis upon exposure to azole antifungals. ERG11 encodes lanosterol demethylase, the target enzyme of this antifungal class. Overexpression of UPC2 reduces azole susceptibility, whereas its disruption results in hypersusceptibility to azoles and reduced accumulation of exogenous sterols. Overexpression of ERG11 leads to the increased production of lanosterol demethylase, which contributes to azole resistance in clinical isolates of C. albicans, but the mechanism for this has yet to be determined. Using genome-wide gene expression profiling, we found UPC2 and other genes involved in ergosterol biosynthesis to be coordinately upregulated with ERG11 in a fluconazole-resistant clinical isolate compared with a matched susceptible isolate from the same patient. Sequence analysis of the UPC2 alleles of these isolates revealed that the resistant isolate contained a single-nucleotide substitution in one UPC2 allele that resulted in a G648D exchange in the encoded protein. Introduction of the mutated allele into a drug-susceptible strain resulted in constitutive upregulation of ERG11 and increased resistance to fluconazole. By comparing the gene expression profiles of the fluconazole-resistant isolate and of strains carrying wild-type and mutated UPC2 alleles, we identified target genes that are controlled by Upc2p. Here we show for the first time that a gain-of-function mutation in UPC2 leads to the increased expression of ERG11 and imparts resistance to fluconazole in clinical isolates of C. albicans.
PMCID: PMC2446669  PMID: 18487346
25.  cis-Acting Elements within the Candida albicans ERG11 Promoter Mediate the Azole Response through Transcription Factor Upc2p▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2007;6(12):2231-2239.
The azole antifungal drugs are used to treat infections caused by Candida albicans and other fungi. These drugs interfere with the biosynthesis of ergosterol, the major sterol in fungal cells, by inhibiting an ergosterol biosynthetic enzyme, lanosterol 14 α-demethylase, encoded by the ERG11 gene. In vitro, these drugs as well as other ergosterol biosynthesis inhibitors increase ERG11 mRNA expression by activation of the ERG11 promoter. The signal for this activation most likely is the depletion of ergosterol, the end product of the pathway. To identify cis-acting regulatory elements that mediate this activation, ERG11 promoter fragments have been fused to the luciferase reporter gene from Renilla reniformis. Promoter deletions and linker scan mutations localized the region important for azole induction to a segment from bp −224 to −251 upstream of the start codon, specifically two 7-bp sequences separated by 13 bp. These sequences form an imperfect inverted repeat. The region is recognized by the transcription factor Upc2p and functions as an enhancer of transcription, as it can be placed upstream of a heterologous promoter in either direction, resulting in the azole induction of that promoter. The promoter constructs are not azole inducible in the upc2/upc2 homozygous deletion, demonstrating that Upc2p controls the azole induction of ERG11. These results identify an azole-responsive enhancer element (ARE) in the ERG11 promoter that is controlled by the Upc2p transcription factor. No other ARE is present in the promoter. Thus, this ARE and Upc2p are necessary and sufficient for azole induction of ERG11.
PMCID: PMC2168239  PMID: 17951521

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