Sfl1p and Sfl2p are two homologous heat shock factor-type transcriptional regulators that antagonistically control morphogenesis in Candida albicans, while being required for full pathogenesis and virulence. To understand how Sfl1p and Sfl2p exert their function, we combined genome-wide location and expression analyses to reveal their transcriptional targets in vivo together with the associated changes of the C. albicans transcriptome. We show that Sfl1p and Sfl2p bind to the promoter of at least 113 common targets through divergent binding motifs and modulate directly the expression of key transcriptional regulators of C. albicans morphogenesis and/or virulence. Surprisingly, we found that Sfl2p additionally binds to the promoter of 75 specific targets, including a high proportion of hyphal-specific genes (HSGs; HWP1, HYR1, ECE1, others), revealing a direct link between Sfl2p and hyphal development. Data mining pointed to a regulatory network in which Sfl1p and Sfl2p act as both transcriptional activators and repressors. Sfl1p directly represses the expression of positive regulators of hyphal growth (BRG1, UME6, TEC1, SFL2), while upregulating both yeast form-associated genes (RME1, RHD1, YWP1) and repressors of morphogenesis (SSN6, NRG1). On the other hand, Sfl2p directly upregulates HSGs and activators of hyphal growth (UME6, TEC1), while downregulating yeast form-associated genes and repressors of morphogenesis (NRG1, RFG1, SFL1). Using genetic interaction analyses, we provide further evidences that Sfl1p and Sfl2p antagonistically control C. albicans morphogenesis through direct modulation of the expression of important regulators of hyphal growth. Bioinformatic analyses suggest that binding of Sfl1p and Sfl2p to their targets occurs with the co-binding of Efg1p and/or Ndt80p. We show, indeed, that Sfl1p and Sfl2p targets are bound by Efg1p and that both Sfl1p and Sfl2p associate in vivo with Efg1p. Taken together, our data suggest that Sfl1p and Sfl2p act as central “switch on/off” proteins to coordinate the regulation of C. albicans morphogenesis.
Candida albicans can switch from a harmless colonizer of body organs to a life-threatening invasive pathogen. This switch is linked to the ability of C. albicans to undergo a yeast-to-filament shift induced by various cues, including temperature. Sfl1p and Sfl2p are two transcription factors required for C. albicans virulence, but antagonistically regulate morphogenesis: Sfl1p represses it, whereas Sfl2p activates it in response to temperature. We show here that Sfl1p and Sfl2p bind in vivo, via divergent motifs, to the regulatory region of a common set of targets encoding key determinants of morphogenesis and virulence and exert both activating and repressing effects on gene expression. Additionally, Sfl2p binds to specific targets, including genes essential for hyphal development. Bioinformatic analyses suggest that Sfl1p and Sfl2p control C. albicans morphogenesis by cooperating with two important regulators of filamentous growth, Efg1p and Ndt80p, a premise that was confirmed by the observation of concomitant binding of Sfl1p, Sfl2p and Efg1p to the promoter of target genes and the demonstration of direct or indirect physical association of Sfl1p and Sfl2p with Efg1p, in vivo. Our data suggest that Sfl1p and Sfl2p act as central “switch on/off” proteins to coordinate the regulation of C. albicans morphogenesis.