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1.  Naphtho-gamma-pyrone production by Aspergillus niger isolated from stored cottonseed. 
Aspergillus niger was found to be the predominant fungal contaminant of stored cottonseed. Seven strains were isolated and grown on rice. The hexane-insoluble material from methylene chloride extracts of 2-week-old cultures contained components toxic to mice. Based on high-pressure thin-layer and liquid chromatographic analyses, the major components in the mixture were eight different naphtho-gamma-pyrones. Of these, the hydrated dimeric naphthopyrones aurasperones B and C occurred in higher yield than aurasperones A, iso-A, and D and the monomeric naphthopyrones flavasperone and rubrofusarin, all of which were present in the mixture. In addition, fonsecin monomethyl ether was isolated. This metabolite may be a precursor in the biosynthesis of the hydrated aurasperones; it has not been identified previously as a metabolite of A. niger. The relative amounts of the different naphthopyrones were dependent on both the growth substrate and the fungal isolate.
PMCID: PMC240283  PMID: 6548104
2.  A Developmentally Regulated Gene Cluster Involved in Conidial Pigment Biosynthesis in Aspergillus fumigatus 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(20):6469-6477.
Aspergillus fumigatus, a filamentous fungus producing bluish-green conidia, is an important opportunistic pathogen that primarily affects immunocompromised patients. Conidial pigmentation of A. fumigatus significantly influences its virulence in a murine model. In the present study, six genes, forming a gene cluster spanning 19 kb, were identified as involved in conidial pigment biosynthesis in A. fumigatus. Northern blot analyses showed the six genes to be developmentally regulated and expressed during conidiation. The gene products of alb1 (for “albino 1”), arp1 (for “aspergillus reddish-pink 1”), and arp2 have high similarity to polyketide synthases, scytalone dehydratases, and hydroxynaphthalene reductases, respectively, found in the dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-melanin pathway of brown and black fungi. The abr1 gene (for “aspergillus brown 1”) encodes a putative protein possessing two signatures of multicopper oxidases. The abr2 gene product has homology to the laccase encoded by the yA gene of Aspergillus nidulans. The function of ayg1 (for “aspergillus yellowish-green 1”) remains unknown. Involvement of the six genes in conidial pigmentation was confirmed by the altered conidial color phenotypes that resulted from disruption of each gene in A. fumigatus. The presence of a DHN-melanin pathway in A. fumigatus was supported by the accumulation of scytalone and flaviolin in the arp1 deletant, whereas only flaviolin was accumulated in the arp2 deletants. Scytalone and flaviolin are well-known signature metabolites of the DHN-melanin pathway. Based on DNA sequence similarity, gene disruption results, and biochemical analyses, we conclude that the 19-kb DNA fragment contains a six-gene cluster which is required for conidial pigment biosynthesis in A. fumigatus. However, the presence of abr1, abr2, and ayg1 in addition to alb1, arp1, and arp2 suggests that conidial pigment biosynthesis in A. fumigatus is more complex than the known DHN-melanin pathway.
PMCID: PMC103784  PMID: 10515939
3.  Metabolic peculiarities of Aspergillus niger disclosed by comparative metabolic genomics 
Genome Biology  2007;8(9):R182.
A genome-scale metabolic network and an in-depth genomic comparison of Aspergillus niger with seven other fungi is presented, revealing more than 1,100 enzyme-coding genes that are unique to A. niger.
Aspergillus niger is an important industrial microorganism for the production of both metabolites, such as citric acid, and proteins, such as fungal enzymes or heterologous proteins. Despite its extensive industrial applications, the genetic inventory of this fungus is only partially understood. The recently released genome sequence opens a new horizon for both scientific studies and biotechnological applications.
Here, we present the first genome-scale metabolic network for A. niger and an in-depth genomic comparison of this species to seven other fungi to disclose its metabolic peculiarities. The raw genomic sequences of A. niger ATCC 9029 were first annotated. The reconstructed metabolic network is based on the annotation of two A. niger genomes, CBS 513.88 and ATCC 9029, including enzymes with 988 unique EC numbers, 2,443 reactions and 2,349 metabolites. More than 1,100 enzyme-coding genes are unique to A. niger in comparison to the other seven fungi. For example, we identified additional copies of genes such as those encoding alternative mitochondrial oxidoreductase and citrate synthase in A. niger, which might contribute to the high citric acid production efficiency of this species. Moreover, nine genes were identified as encoding enzymes with EC numbers exclusively found in A. niger, mostly involved in the biosynthesis of complex secondary metabolites and degradation of aromatic compounds.
The genome-level reconstruction of the metabolic network and genome-based metabolic comparison disclose peculiarities of A. niger highly relevant to its biotechnological applications and should contribute to future rational metabolic design and systems biology studies of this black mold and related species.
PMCID: PMC2375020  PMID: 17784953
4.  The Developmentally Regulated alb1 Gene of Aspergillus fumigatus: Its Role in Modulation of Conidial Morphology and Virulence 
Journal of Bacteriology  1998;180(12):3031-3038.
Aspergillus fumigatus, an important opportunistic pathogen which commonly affects neutropenic patients, produces conidia with a bluish-green color. We identified a gene, alb1, which is required for conidial pigmentation. The alb1 gene encodes a putative polyketide synthase, and disruption of alb1 resulted in an albino conidial phenotype. Expression of alb1 is developmentally regulated, and the 7-kb transcript is detected only during the conidiation stage. The alb1 mutation was found to block 1,3,6,8-tetrahydroxynaphthalene production, indicating that alb1 is involved in dihydroxynaphthalene-melanin biosynthesis. Scanning electron microscopy studies showed that the alb1 disruptant exhibited a smooth conidial surface, whereas complementation of the alb1 deletion restored the echinulate wild-type surface. Disruption of alb1 resulted in a significant increase in C3 binding on conidial surfaces, and the conidia of the alb1 disruptant were ingested by human neutrophils at a higher rate than were those of the wild type. The alb1-complemented strain producing bluish-green conidia exhibited inefficient C3 binding and neutrophil-mediated phagocytosis quantitatively similar to those of the wild type. Importantly, the alb1 disruptant had a statistically significant loss of virulence compared to the wild-type and alb1-complemented strains in a murine model. These results suggest that disruption of alb1 causes pleiotropic effects on conidial morphology and fungal virulence.
PMCID: PMC107801  PMID: 9620950
5.  The transcriptomic fingerprint of glucoamylase over-expression in Aspergillus niger 
BMC Genomics  2012;13:701.
Filamentous fungi such as Aspergillus niger are well known for their exceptionally high capacity for secretion of proteins, organic acids, and secondary metabolites and they are therefore used in biotechnology as versatile microbial production platforms. However, system-wide insights into their metabolic and secretory capacities are sparse and rational strain improvement approaches are therefore limited. In order to gain a genome-wide view on the transcriptional regulation of the protein secretory pathway of A. niger, we investigated the transcriptome of A. niger when it was forced to overexpression the glaA gene (encoding glucoamylase, GlaA) and secrete GlaA to high level.
An A. niger wild-type strain and a GlaA over-expressing strain, containing multiple copies of the glaA gene, were cultivated under maltose-limited chemostat conditions (specific growth rate 0.1 h-1). Elevated glaA mRNA and extracellular GlaA levels in the over-expressing strain were accompanied by elevated transcript levels from 772 genes and lowered transcript levels from 815 genes when compared to the wild-type strain. Using GO term enrichment analysis, four higher-order categories were identified in the up-regulated gene set: i) endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane translocation, ii) protein glycosylation, iii) vesicle transport, and iv) ion homeostasis. Among these, about 130 genes had predicted functions for the passage of proteins through the ER and those genes included target genes of the HacA transcription factor that mediates the unfolded protein response (UPR), e.g. bipA, clxA, prpA, tigA and pdiA. In order to identify those genes that are important for high-level secretion of proteins by A. niger, we compared the transcriptome of the GlaA overexpression strain of A. niger with six other relevant transcriptomes of A. niger. Overall, 40 genes were found to have either elevated (from 36 genes) or lowered (from 4 genes) transcript levels under all conditions that were examined, thus defining the core set of genes important for ensuring high protein traffic through the secretory pathway.
We have defined the A. niger genes that respond to elevated secretion of GlaA and, furthermore, we have defined a core set of genes that appear to be involved more generally in the intensified traffic of proteins through the secretory pathway of A. niger. The consistent up-regulation of a gene encoding the acetyl-coenzyme A transporter suggests a possible role for transient acetylation to ensure correct folding of secreted proteins.
PMCID: PMC3554566  PMID: 23237452
Aspergillus niger; Protein expression; Secretion; HacA; Unfolded protein response; Endoplasmic reticulum; Glucoamylase; Transcriptome
6.  ChLae1 and ChVel1 Regulate T-toxin Production, Virulence, Oxidative Stress Response, and Development of the Maize Pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(2):e1002542.
LaeA and VeA coordinate secondary metabolism and differentiation in response to light signals in Aspergillus spp. Their orthologs, ChLae1 and ChVel1, were identified in the maize pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus, known to produce a wealth of secondary metabolites, including the host selective toxin, T-toxin. Produced by race T, T-toxin promotes high virulence to maize carrying Texas male sterile cytoplasm (T-cms). T-toxin production is significantly increased in the dark in wild type (WT), whereas Chvel1 and Chlae1 mutant toxin levels are much reduced in the dark compared to WT. Correspondingly, expression of T-toxin biosynthetic genes (Tox1) is up-regulated in the dark in WT, while dark-induced expression is much reduced/minimal in Chvel1 and Chlae1 mutants. Toxin production and Tox1 gene expression are increased in ChVEL1 overexpression (OE) strains grown in the dark and in ChLAE1 strains grown in either light or dark, compared to WT. These observations establish ChLae1 and ChVel1 as the first factors known to regulate host selective toxin production. Virulence of Chlae1 and Chvel1 mutants and OE strains is altered on both T-cms and normal cytoplasm maize, indicating that both T-toxin mediated super virulence and basic pathogenic ability are affected. Deletion of ChLAE1 or ChVEL1 reduces tolerance to H2O2. Expression of CAT3, one of the three catalase genes, is reduced in the Chvel1 mutant. Chlae1 and Chvel1 mutants also show decreased aerial hyphal growth, increased asexual sporulation and female sterility. ChLAE1 OE strains are female sterile, while ChVEL1 OE strains are more fertile than WT. ChLae1 and ChVel1 repress expression of 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN) melanin biosynthesis genes, and, accordingly, melanization is enhanced in Chlae1 and Chvel1 mutants, and reduced in OE strains. Thus, ChLae1 and ChVel1 positively regulate T-toxin biosynthesis, pathogenicity and super virulence, oxidative stress responses, sexual development, and aerial hyphal growth, and negatively control melanin biosynthesis and asexual differentiation.
Author Summary
Filamentous fungi produce chemically diverse metabolites that broker positive and negative interactions with other organisms, manage host pathogenicity/virulence, nutritional and environmental stresses, and differentiation of the fungus. The maize pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus is notorious as the causal agent of the most economically devastating epidemic to date, in 1970. Disease severity was associated with appearance of a new race, producing T-toxin, a host selective toxin promoting high virulence to Texas male sterile cytoplasm maize, widely planted at the time. LaeA and VeA are central regulators of secondary metabolism in Aspergillus, coordinating metabolite production and differentiation in response to light. Given the significance of effector-type host selective toxins in pathogenic interactions, we characterized ChLae1 and ChVel1 and found that deletion and overexpression affect T-toxin production in planta and in vitro. Both chlorosis due to T-toxin and necrotic lesion formation are altered, establishing these as the first factors known to regulate both super virulence conferred by T-toxin, and basic pathogenicity, due to unknown factors. The mutants are also altered in oxidative stress responses, key to success in the infection court, asexual and sexual development, essential for fungal dissemination in the field, aerial hyphal growth, and pigment biosynthesis, essential for survival in the field.
PMCID: PMC3285592  PMID: 22383877
7.  Molecular Cloning and Characterization of WdPKS1, a Gene Involved in Dihydroxynaphthalene Melanin Biosynthesis and Virulence in Wangiella (Exophiala) dermatitidis 
Infection and Immunity  2001;69(3):1781-1794.
1,8-Dihydroxynaphthalene (1,8-DHN) is a fungal polyketide that contributes to virulence when polymerized to 1,8-DHN melanin in the cell walls of Wangiella dermatitidis, an agent of phaeohyphomycosis in humans. To begin a genetic analysis of the initial synthetic steps leading to 1,8-DHN melanin biosynthesis, a 772-bp PCR product was amplified from genomic DNA using primers based on conserved regions of fungal polyketide synthases (Pks) known to produce the first cyclized 1,8-DHN-melanin pathway intermediate, 1,3,6,8-tetrahydroxynaphthalene. The cloned PCR product was then used as a targeting sequence to disrupt the putative polyketide synthase gene, WdPKS1, in W. dermatitidis. The resulting wdpks1Δ disruptants showed no morphological defects other than an albino phenotype and grew at the same rate as their black wild-type parent. Using a marker rescue approach, the intact WdPKS1 gene was then successfully recovered from two plasmids. The WdPKS1 gene was also isolated independently by complementation of the mel3 mutation in an albino mutant of W. dermatitidis using a cosmid library. Sequence analysis substantiated that WdPKS1 encoded a putative polyketide synthase (WdPks1p) in a single open reading frame consisting of three exons separated by two short introns. This conclusion was supported by the identification of highly conserved Pks domains for a β-ketoacyl synthase, an acetyl-malonyl transferase, two acyl carrier proteins, and a thioesterase in the deduced amino acid sequence. Studies using a neutrophil killing assay and a mouse acute-infection model confirmed that all wdpks1Δ strains were less resistant to killing and less virulent, respectively, than their wild-type parent. Reconstitution of 1,8-DHN melanin biosynthesis in a wdpks1Δ strain reestablished its resistance to killing by neutrophils and its ability to cause fatal mouse infections.
PMCID: PMC98085  PMID: 11179356
8.  Biosynthesis and Functions of a Melanoid Pigment Produced by Species of the Sporothrix Complex in the Presence of l-Tyrosine 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(24):8623-8630.
Sporothrix schenckii is the etiological agent of sporotrichosis, the main subcutaneous mycosis in Latin America. Melanin is an important virulence factor of S. schenckii, which produces dihydroxynaphthalene melanin (DHN-melanin) in conidia and yeast cells. Additionally, l-dihydroxyphenylalanine (l-DOPA) can be used to enhance melanin production on these structures as well as on hyphae. Some fungi are able to synthesize another type of melanoid pigment, called pyomelanin, as a result of tyrosine catabolism. Since there is no information about tyrosine catabolism in Sporothrix spp., we cultured 73 strains, including representatives of newly described Sporothrix species of medical interest, such as S. brasiliensis, S. schenckii, and S. globosa, in minimal medium with tyrosine. All strains but one were able to produce a melanoid pigment with a negative charge in this culture medium after 9 days of incubation. An S. schenckii DHN-melanin mutant strain also produced pigment in the presence of tyrosine. Further analysis showed that pigment production occurs in both the filamentous and yeast phases, and pigment accumulates in supernatants during stationary-phase growth. Notably, sulcotrione inhibits pigment production. Melanin ghosts of wild-type and DHN mutant strains obtained when the fungus was cultured with tyrosine were similar to melanin ghosts yielded in the absence of the precursor, indicating that this melanin does not polymerize on the fungal cell wall. However, pyomelanin-producing fungal cells were more resistant to nitrogen-derived oxidants and to UV light. In conclusion, at least three species of the Sporothrix complex are able to produce pyomelanin in the presence of tyrosine, and this pigment might be involved in virulence.
PMCID: PMC3502921  PMID: 23042177
9.  Seven naphtho-γ-pyrones from the marine-derived fungus Alternaria alternata: structure elucidation and biological properties 
Eight bioactive pyrone derivatives were identified from the culture of Alternaria alternata strain D2006, isolated from the marine soft coral Denderonephthya hemprichi, which was selected as its profound antimicrobial activities. The compounds were assigned as pyrophen (1), rubrofusarin B (2), fonsecin (3), and fonsecin B (5) beside to the four dimeric naphtho-γ-pyrones; aurasperone A (6), aurasperone B (7), aurasperone C (8), and aurasperone F (9). Structures of the isolated compounds were identified on the basis of 1D and 2D NMR spectroscopy and mass (EI, ESI, HRESI) data, and by comparison with the literature. Configuration of the four dimeric naphtho-γ-pyrones 6-9 was analyzed by CD spectra, exhibiting an identical stereochemistry.
PMCID: PMC3350997  PMID: 22377027
pyrone derivatives; Alternaria alternata; marine fungi; biological activity
10.  Identification of Genes Associated with Morphology in Aspergillus niger by Using Suppression Subtractive Hybridization 
The morphology of citric acid production strains of Aspergillus niger is sensitive to a variety of factors, including the concentration of manganese (Mn2+). Upon increasing the Mn2+ concentration in A. niger (ATCC 11414) cultures to 14 ppb or higher, the morphology switches from pelleted to filamentous, accompanied by a rapid decline in citric acid production. The molecular mechanisms through which Mn2+ exerts effects on morphology and citric acid production in A. niger cultures have not been well defined, but our use of suppression subtractive hybridization has identified 22 genes responsive to Mn2+. Fifteen genes were differentially expressed when A. niger was grown in media containing 1,000 ppb of Mn2+ (filamentous form), and seven genes were expressed in 10 ppb of Mn2+ (pelleted form). Of the 15 filament-associated genes, seven are novel and eight share 47 to 100% identity with genes from other organisms. Five of the pellet-associated genes are novel, and the other two genes encode a pepsin-type protease and polyubiquitin. All 10 genes with deduced functions are either involved in amino acid metabolism-protein catabolism or cell regulatory processes. Northern blot analysis showed that the transcripts of all 22 genes were rapidly enhanced or suppressed by Mn2+. Steady-state mRNA levels of six selected filament-associated genes remained high during 5 days of culture in a filamentous state and remained low under pelleted growth conditions. The opposite behavior was observed for four selected pellet-associated genes. The full-length cDNA of the filament-associated clone, Brsa-25, was isolated. Antisense expression of Brsa-25 permitted pelleted growth and increased citrate production at concentrations of Mn2+ that were higher than the parent strain could tolerate. These results suggest the involvement of the newly isolated genes in the regulation of A. niger morphology.
PMCID: PMC383145  PMID: 15066846
11.  Singlet Molecular Oxygen Generation by Light-Activated DHN-Melanin of the Fungal Pathogen Mycosphaerella fijiensis in Black Sigatoka Disease of Bananas 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e91616.
In pathogenic fungi, melanin contributes to virulence, allowing tissue invasion and inactivation of the plant defence system, but has never been implicated as a factor for host cell death, or as a light-activated phytotoxin. Our research shows that melanin synthesized by the fungal banana pathogen Mycosphaerella fijiensis acts as a virulence factor through the photogeneration of singlet molecular oxygen O2 (1Δg). Using analytical tools, including elemental analysis, ultraviolet/infrared absorption spectrophometry and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry analysis, we characterized both pigment content in mycelia and secreted to the culture media as 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-melanin type compound. This is sole melanin-type in M. fijiensis. Isolated melanins irradiated with a Nd:YAG laser at 532 nm produced monomol light emission at 1270 nm, confirming generation of O2 (1Δg), a highly reactive oxygen specie (ROS) that causes cellular death by reacting with all cellular macromolecules. Intermediary polyketides accumulated in culture media by using tricyclazole and pyroquilon (two inhibitors of DHN-melanin synthesis) were identified by ESI-HPLC-MS/MS. Additionally, irradiation at 532 nm of that mixture of compounds and whole melanized mycelium also generated O2 (1Δg). A pigmented-strain generated more O2 (1Δg) than a strain with low melanin content. Banana leaves of cultivar Cavendish, naturally infected with different stages of black Sigatoka disease, were collected from field. Direct staining of the naturally infected leaf tissues showed the presence of melanin that was positively correlated to the disease stage. We also found hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) but we cannot distinguish the source. Our results suggest that O2 (1Δg) photogenerated by DHN-melanin may be involved in the destructive effects of Mycosphaerella fijiensis on banana leaf tissues. Further studies are needed to fully evaluate contributions of melanin-mediated ROS to microbial pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3960117  PMID: 24646830
12.  Effects of disrupting the polyketide synthase gene WdPKS1 in Wangiella [Exophiala] dermatitidis on melanin production and resistance to killing by antifungal compounds, enzymatic degradation, and extremes in temperature 
BMC Microbiology  2006;6:55.
Wangiella dermatitidis is a human pathogenic fungus that is an etiologic agent of phaeohyphomycosis. W. dermatitidis produces a black pigment that has been identified as a dihydroxynaphthalene melanin and the production of this pigment is associated with its virulence. Cell wall pigmentation in W. dermatitidis depends on the WdPKS1 gene, which encodes a polyketide synthase required for generating the key precursor for dihydroxynaphthalene melanin biosynthesis.
We analyzed the effects of disrupting WdPKS1 on dihydroxynaphthalene melanin production and resistance to antifungal compounds. Transmission electron microscopy revealed that wdpks1Δ-1 yeast had thinner cell walls that lacked an electron-opaque layer compared to wild-type cells. However, digestion of the wdpks1Δ-1 yeast revealed small black particles that were consistent with a melanin-like compound, because they were acid-resistant, reacted with melanin-binding antibody, and demonstrated a free radical signature by electron spin resonance analysis. Despite lacking the WdPKS1 gene, the mutant yeast were capable of catalyzing the formation of melanin from L-3,4-dihyroxyphenylalanine. The wdpks1Δ-1 cells were significantly more susceptible to killing by voriconazole, amphotericin B, NP-1 [a microbicidal peptide], heat and cold, and lysing enzymes than the heavily melanized parental or complemented strains.
In summary, W. dermatitidis makes WdPKS-dependent and -independent melanins, and the WdPKS1-dependent deposition of melanin in the cell wall confers protection against antifungal agents and environmental stresses. The biological role of the WdPKS-independent melanin remains unclear.
PMCID: PMC1569847  PMID: 16784529
13.  Submerged Conidiation and Product Formation by Aspergillus niger at Low Specific Growth Rates Are Affected in Aerial Developmental Mutants ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(15):5270-5277.
Exposure to an aerial environment or severe nutrient limitation induces asexual differentiation in filamentous fungi. Submerged cultivation of Aspergillus niger in carbon- and energy-limited retentostat cultures both induces and fuels conidiation. Physiological and transcriptomic analyses have revealed that this differentiation strongly affects product formation. Since conidiation is inherent in the aerial environment, we hypothesized that product formation near zero growth can be influenced by affecting differentiation or development of aerial hyphae in general. To investigate this idea, three developmental mutants (ΔfwnA, scl-1, and scl-2 mutants) that have no apparent vegetative growth defects were cultured in maltose-limited retentostat cultures. The secondary-metabolite profile of the wild-type strain defined flavasperone, aurasperone B, tensidol B, and two so far uncharacterized compounds as associated with conidium formation, while fumonisins B2, B4, and B6 were characteristic of early response to nutrient limitation by the vegetative mycelium. The developmental mutants responded differently to the severe substrate limitation, which resulted in distinct profiles of growth and product formation. fwnA encodes the polyketide synthase responsible for melanin biosynthesis during aerial differentiation, and we show that conidial melanin synthesis in submerged retentostat cultures and aurasperone B production are fwnA dependent. The scl-1 and scl-2 strains are two UV mutants generated in the ΔfwnA background that displayed reduced asexual conidiation and formed sclerotium-like structures on agar plates. The reduced conidiation phenotypes of the scl-1 and scl-2 strains are reflected in the retentostat cultivation and are accompanied by elimination or severely reduced accumulation of secondary metabolites and distinctly enhanced accumulation of extracellular protein. This investigation shows that submerged conidiation and product formation of a mitosporic fungus cultured at low specific growth rates can be fundamentally affected by interfering with the genetic program for differentiation of aerial hyphae, opening new perspectives for tailoring industrial performance.
PMCID: PMC3147447  PMID: 21652743
14.  The Aspergillus niger multicopper oxidase family: analysis and overexpression of laccase-like encoding genes 
Many filamentous fungal genomes contain complex groups of multicopper oxidase (MCO) coding genes that makes them a good source for new laccases with potential biotechnological interest. A bioinformatics analysis of the Aspergillus niger ATCC 1015 genome resulted in the identification of thirteen MCO genes. Ten of them were cloned and homologously overexpressed.
A bioinformatic analysis of the A. niger ATCC 1015 genome revealed the presence of 13 MCO genes belonging to three different subfamilies on the basis of their phylogenetic relationships: ascomycete laccases, fungal pigment MCOs and fungal ferroxidases. According to in silico amino acid sequence analysis, the putative genes encoding for functional extracellular laccases (mcoA, mcoB, mcoC, mcoD, mcoE, mcoF, mcoG, mcoI, mcoJ and mcoM) were placed under the control of the glaA promoter and overexpressed in A. niger N593. Enzyme activity plate assays with several common laccase substrates showed that all genes are actually expressed and code for active MCOs. Interestingly, expressed enzymes show different substrate specificities. In addition, optimization of fungal pigment MCOs extracellular production was investigated. The performance of the widely used glucoamylase signal sequence (ssGlaA) in McoA secretion was studied. Results obtained suggest that ssGlaA do not yield higher levels of secreted McoA when compared to its native secretion signal. Also, McoB synthesis was investigated using different nitrogen sources in minimal medium liquid cultures. Higher yields of extracellular McoB were achieved with (NH4)2 tartrate.
Aspergillus niger is a good source of new laccases. The different substrate specificity observed in plate assays makes them interesting to be purified and biochemically compared. The homologous signal sequence of McoA has been shown to be a good choice for its extracellular overexpression. From the nitrogen sources tested (NH4)2 tartrate has been found to be the most appropriate for McoB production in A. niger.
PMCID: PMC3200161  PMID: 21981827
Multicopper oxidase; laccase; Aspergillus niger; secretion
15.  Aspergillus fumigatus melanins: interference with the host endocytosis pathway and impact on virulence 
The opportunistic human pathogenic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus produces at least two types of melanin, namely pyomelanin and dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN) melanin. Pyomelanin is produced during tyrosine catabolism via accumulation of homogentisic acid. Although pyomelanin protects the fungus against reactive oxygen species (ROS) and acts as a defense compound in response to cell wall stress, mutants deficient for pyomelanin biosynthesis do not differ in virulence when tested in a murine infection model for invasive pulmonary aspergillosis. DHN melanin is responsible for the characteristic gray-greenish color of A. fumigatus conidia. Mutants lacking a functional polyketide synthase PksP, the enzyme responsible for the initial step in DHN-melanin formation, i.e., the synthesis of naphthopyrone, produce white spores and are attenuated in virulence. The activity of PksP was found to be essential not only for inhibition of apoptosis of phagocytes by interfering with the host PI3K/Akt signaling cascade but also for effective inhibition of acidification of conidia-containing phagolysosomes. These features allow A. fumigatus to survive in phagocytes and thereby to escape from human immune effector cells and to become a successful pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3548413  PMID: 23346079
Aspergillus fumigatus; melanin; virulence; apoptosis; phagocytes; endocytosis
16.  Protein Kinase A Regulates Growth, Sporulation, and Pigment Formation in Aspergillus fumigatus▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(15):4923-4933.
Aspergillus fumigatus is an opportunistic human pathogenic fungus causing severe infections in immunocompromised patients. Cyclic AMP (cAMP) signal transduction plays an important role in virulence. A central component of this signaling cascade is protein kinase A (PKA), which regulates cellular processes by phosphorylation of specific target proteins. Here we describe the generation and analysis of A. fumigatus mutants expressing the gene encoding the catalytic subunit of PKA, pkaC1, under control of an inducible promoter. Strains overexpressing pkaC1 showed high PKA activity, reduced growth, sporulation deficiency, and formation of a dark pigment in the mycelium. These data indicate that cAMP-PKA signaling is involved in the regulation of important processes, such as growth, asexual reproduction, and biosynthesis of secondary metabolites. Furthermore, elevated PKA activity led to increased expression of the pksP gene. The polyketide synthase PksP is an essential enzyme for production of dihydroxynaphthalene-melanin in A. fumigatus and contributes to virulence. Our results suggest that increased pksP expression is responsible for pigment formation in the mycelium. Comparative proteome analysis of the pkaC1-overexpressing strain and the wild-type strain led to the identification of proteins regulated by the cAMP-PKA signal transduction pathway. We showed that elevated PKA activity resulted in activation of stress-associated proteins and of enzymes involved in protein biosynthesis and glucose catabolism. In contrast, proteins which were involved in nucleotide and amino acid biosynthesis were downregulated, as were enzymes involved in catabolism of carbon sources other than glucose.
PMCID: PMC2519360  PMID: 18539819
17.  New Biosynthetic Step in the Melanin Pathway of Wangiella (Exophiala) dermatitidis: Evidence for 2-Acetyl-1,3,6,8-Tetrahydroxynaphthalene as a Novel Precursor▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;7(10):1699-1711.
The predominant cell wall melanin of Wangiella dermatitidis, a black fungal pathogen of humans, is synthesized from 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene (D2HN). An early precursor, 1,3,6,8-tetrahydroxynaphthalene (T4HN), in the pathway leading to D2HN is reportedly produced directly as a pentaketide by an iterative type I polyketide synthase (PKS). In contrast, the bluish-green pigment in Aspergillus fumigatus is produced after the enzyme Ayg1p converts the PKS product, the heptaketide YWA1, to T4HN. Previously, we created a new melanin-deficient mutant of W. dermatitidis, WdBrm1, by random molecular insertion. From this strain, the altered gene WdYG1 was cloned by a marker rescue strategy and found to encode WdYg1p, an ortholog of Ayg1p. In the present study, two gene replacement mutants devoid of the complete WdYG1 gene were derived to eliminate the possibility that the phenotype of WdBrm1 was due to other mutations. Characterization of the new mutants showed that they were phenotypically identical to WdBrm1. Chemical analyses of mutant cultures demonstrated that melanin biosynthesis was blocked, resulting in the accumulation of 2-acetyl-1,3,6,8-tetrahydroxynaphthalene (AT4HN) and its oxidative product 3-acetylflaviolin in the culture media. When given to an albino W. dermatitidis strain with an inactivated WdPKS1 gene, AT4HN was mostly oxidized to 3-acetylflaviolin and deacetylated to flaviolin. Under reduced oxygen conditions, cell-free homogenates of the albino converted AT4HN to D2HN. This is the first report of evidence that the hexaketide AT4HN is a melanin precursor for T4HN in W. dermatitidis.
PMCID: PMC2568069  PMID: 18676950
18.  Proteome analysis of Aspergillus niger: Lactate added in starch-containing medium can increase production of the mycotoxin fumonisin B2 by modifying acetyl-CoA metabolism 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:255.
Aspergillus niger is a filamentous fungus found in the environment, on foods and feeds and is used as host for production of organic acids, enzymes and proteins. The mycotoxin fumonisin B2 was recently found to be produced by A. niger and hence very little is known about production and regulation of this metabolite. Proteome analysis was used with the purpose to reveal how fumonisin B2 production by A. niger is influenced by starch and lactate in the medium.
Fumonisin B2 production by A. niger was significantly increased when lactate and starch were combined in the medium. Production of a few other A. niger secondary metabolites was affected similarly by lactate and starch (fumonisin B4, orlandin, desmethylkotanin and pyranonigrin A), while production of others was not (ochratoxin A, ochratoxin alpha, malformin A, malformin C, kotanin, aurasperone B and tensidol B). The proteome of A. niger was clearly different during growth on media containing 3% starch, 3% starch + 3% lactate or 3% lactate. The identity of 59 spots was obtained, mainly those showing higher or lower expression levels on medium with starch and lactate. Many of them were enzymes in primary metabolism and other processes that affect the intracellular level of acetyl-CoA or NADPH. This included enzymes in the pentose phosphate pathway, pyruvate metabolism, the tricarboxylic acid cycle, ammonium assimilation, fatty acid biosynthesis and oxidative stress protection.
Lactate added in a medium containing nitrate and starch can increase fumonisin B2 production by A. niger as well as production of some other secondary metabolites. Changes in the balance of intracellular metabolites towards a higher level of carbon passing through acetyl-CoA and a high capacity to regenerate NADPH during growth on medium with starch and lactate were found to be the likely cause of this effect. The results lead to the hypothesis that fumonisin production by A. niger is regulated by acetyl-CoA.
PMCID: PMC2807875  PMID: 20003296
19.  Transcriptomic Insights into the Physiology of Aspergillus niger Approaching a Specific Growth Rate of Zero ▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(16):5344-5355.
The physiology of filamentous fungi at growth rates approaching zero has been subject to limited study and exploitation. With the aim of uncoupling product formation from growth, we have revisited and improved the retentostat cultivation method for Aspergillus niger. A new retention device was designed allowing reliable and nearly complete cell retention even at high flow rates. Transcriptomic analysis was used to explore the potential for product formation at very low specific growth rates. The carbon- and energy-limited retentostat cultures were highly reproducible. While the specific growth rate approached zero (<0.005 h−1), the growth yield stabilized at a minimum (0.20 g of dry weight per g of maltose). The severe limitation led to asexual differentiation, and the supplied substrate was used for spore formation and secondary metabolism. Three physiologically distinct phases of the retentostat cultures were subjected to genome-wide transcriptomic analysis. The severe substrate limitation and sporulation were clearly reflected in the transcriptome. The transition from vegetative to reproductive growth was characterized by downregulation of genes encoding secreted substrate hydrolases and cell cycle genes and upregulation of many genes encoding secreted small cysteine-rich proteins and secondary metabolism genes. Transcription of known secretory pathway genes suggests that A. niger becomes adapted to secretion of small cysteine-rich proteins. The perspective is that A. niger cultures as they approach a zero growth rate can be used as a cell factory for production of secondary metabolites and cysteine-rich proteins. We propose that the improved retentostat method can be used in fundamental studies of differentiation and is applicable to filamentous fungi in general.
PMCID: PMC2918955  PMID: 20562270
20.  Inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation for enhancing citric acid production by Aspergillus niger 
The spore germination rate and growth characteristics were compared between the citric acid high-yield strain Aspergillus niger CGMCC 5751 and A. niger ATCC 1015 in media containing antimycin A or DNP. We inferred that differences in citric acid yield might be due to differences in energy metabolism between these strains. To explore the impact of energy metabolism on citric acid production, the changes in intracellular ATP, NADH and NADH/NAD+ were measured at various fermentation stages. In addition, the effects of antimycin A or DNP on energy metabolism and citric acid production was investigated by CGMCC 5751.
By comparing the spore germination rate and the extent of growth on PDA plates containing antimycin A or DNP, CGMCC 5751 was shown to be more sensitive to antimycin A than ATCC 1015. The substrate-level phosphorylation of CGMCC 5751 was greater than that of ATCC 1015 on PDA plates with DNP. DNP at tested concentrations had no apparent effect on the growth of CGMCC 5751. There were no apparent effects on the mycelial morphology, the growth of mycelial pellets or the dry cell mass when 0.2 mg L-1 antimycin A or 0.1 mg L-1 DNP was added to medium at the 24-h time point. The concentrations of intracellular ATP, NADH and NADH/NAD+ of CGMCC 5751 were notably lower than those of ATCC 1015 at several fermentation stages. Moreover, at 96 h of fermentation, the citric acid production of CGMCC 5751 reached up to 151.67 g L-1 and 135.78 g L-1 by adding 0.2 mg L-1 antimycin A or 0.1 mg L-1 DNP, respectively, at the 24-h time point of fermentation. Thus, the citric acid production of CGMCC 5751 was increased by 19.89% and 7.32%, respectively.
The concentrations of intracellular ATP, NADH and NADH/NAD+ of the citric acid high-yield strain CGMCC 5751 were notably lower than those of ATCC 1015. The excessive ATP has a strong inhibitory effect on citric acid accumulation by A. niger. Increasing NADH oxidation and appropriately reducing the concentration of intracellular ATP can accelerate glycolysis and the TCA cycle to enhance citric acid yield.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12934-015-0190-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4320542  PMID: 25592678
Citric acid; Aspergillus niger; Oxidative phosphorylation inhibitor; Uncoupler of oxidative phosphorylation; Energy metabolism
21.  Thioesterase Domains of Fungal Nonreducing Polyketide Synthases Act as Decision Gates during Combinatorial Biosynthesis 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2013;135(29):10783-10791.
A crucial step during the programmed biosynthesis of fungal polyketide natural products is the release of the final polyketide intermediate from the iterative polyketide synthases (iPKSs), most frequently by a thioesterase (TE) domain. Realization of combinatorial biosynthesis with iPKSs requires TE domains that can accept altered polyketide intermediates generated by hybrid synthase enzymes and successfully release “unnatural products” with the desired structure. Achieving precise control over product release is of paramount importance with O—C bond-forming TE domains capable of macrocyclization, hydrolysis, transesterification and pyrone formation that channel reactive, pluripotent polyketide intermediates to defined structural classes of bioactive secondary metabolites. By exploiting chimeric iPKS enzymes to offer substrates with controlled structural variety to two orthologous O—C bond-forming TE domains in situ, we show that these enzymes act as non-equivalent decision gates, determining context-dependent release mechanisms and overall product flux. Inappropriate choice of a TE could eradicate product formation in an otherwise highly productive chassis. Conversely, a judicious choice of a TE may allow the production of a desired hybrid metabolite. Finally, a serendipitous choice of a TE may reveal the unexpected productivity of some chassis. The ultimate decision gating role of TE domains influences the observable outcome of combinatorial domain swaps, emphasizing that the deduced programming rules are context dependent. These factors may complicate engineering the biosynthesis of a desired “unnatural product”, but may also open additional avenues to create biosynthetic novelty based on fungal nonreduced polyketides.
PMCID: PMC3780601  PMID: 23822773
22.  Characterization of oxylipins and dioxygenase genes in the asexual fungus Aspergillus niger 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:59.
Aspergillus niger is an ascomycetous fungus that is known to reproduce through asexual spores, only. Interestingly, recent genome analysis of A. niger has revealed the presence of a full complement of functional genes related to sexual reproduction [1]. An example of such genes are the dioxygenase genes which in Aspergillus nidulans, have been shown to be connected to oxylipin production and regulation of both sexual and asexual sporulation [2-4]. Nevertheless, the presence of sex related genes alone does not confirm sexual sporulation in A. niger.
The current study shows experimentally that A. niger produces the oxylipins 8,11-dihydroxy octadecadienoic acid (8,11-diHOD), 5,8-dihydroxy octadecadienoic acid (5,8-diHOD), lactonized 5,8-diHOD, 8-hydroxy octadecadienoic acid (8-HOD), 10-hydroxy octadecadienoic acid (10-HOD), small amounts of 8-hydroxy octadecamonoenoic acid (8-HOM), 9-hydroxy octadecadienoic acid (9-HOD) and 13-hydroxy octadecadienoic acid (13-HOD). Importantly, this study shows that the A. niger genome contains three putative dioxygenase genes, ppoA, ppoC and ppoD. Expression analysis confirmed that all three genes are indeed expressed under the conditions tested.
A. niger produces the same oxylipins and has similar dioxygenase genes as A. nidulans. Their presence could point towards the existence of sexual reproduction in A. niger or a broader role for the gene products in physiology, than just sexual development.
PMCID: PMC2666749  PMID: 19309517
23.  Expression of the Aspergillus terreus itaconic acid biosynthesis cluster in Aspergillus niger 
Aspergillus terreus is a natural producer of itaconic acid and is currently used to produce itaconic acid on an industrial scale. The metabolic process for itaconic acid biosynthesis is very similar to the production of citric acid in Aspergillus niger. However, a key enzyme in A. niger, cis-aconitate decarboxylase, is missing. The introduction of the A. terreus cadA gene in A. niger exploits the high level of citric acid production (over 200 g per liter) and theoretically can lead to production levels of over 135 g per liter of itaconic acid in A. niger. Given the potential for higher production levels in A. niger, production of itaconic acid in this host was investigated.
Expression of Aspergillus terreus cis-aconitate decarboxylase in Aspergillus niger resulted in the production of a low concentration (0.05 g/L) of itaconic acid. Overexpression of codon-optimized genes for cis-aconitate decarboxylase, a mitochondrial transporter and a plasma membrane transporter in an oxaloacetate hydrolase and glucose oxidase deficient A. niger strain led to highly increased yields and itaconic acid production titers. At these higher production titers, the effect of the mitochondrial and plasma membrane transporters was much more pronounced, with levels being 5–8 times higher than previously described.
Itaconic acid can be produced in A. niger by the introduction of the A. terreus cis-aconitate decarboxylase encoding cadA gene. This results in a low itaconic acid production level, which can be increased by codon-optimization of the cadA gene for A. niger. A second crucial requirement for efficient production of itaconic acid is the expression of the A. terreus mttA gene, encoding a putative mitochondrial transporter. Expression of this transporter results in a twenty-fold increase in the secretion of itaconic acid. Expression of the A. terreus itaconic acid cluster consisting of the cadA gene, the mttA gene and the mfsA gene results in A. niger strains that produce over twenty five-fold higher levels of itaconic acid and show a twenty-fold increase in yield compared to a strain expressing only CadA.
PMCID: PMC3898256  PMID: 24438100
Aspergillus niger; Aspergillus terreus; cis-aconitate decarboxylase cadA; Mitochondrial transporter mttA; Plasma membrane transporter mfsA; Itaconic acid
24.  Transcriptional Regulation of Chemical Diversity in Aspergillus fumigatus by LaeA 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(4):e50.
Secondary metabolites, including toxins and melanins, have been implicated as virulence attributes in invasive aspergillosis. Although not definitively proved, this supposition is supported by the decreased virulence of an Aspergillus fumigatus strain, ΔlaeA, that is crippled in the production of numerous secondary metabolites. However, loss of a single LaeA-regulated toxin, gliotoxin, did not recapitulate the hypovirulent ΔlaeA pathotype, thus implicating other toxins whose production is governed by LaeA. Toward this end, a whole-genome comparison of the transcriptional profile of wild-type, ΔlaeA, and complemented control strains showed that genes in 13 of 22 secondary metabolite gene clusters, including several A. fumigatus–specific mycotoxin clusters, were expressed at significantly lower levels in the ΔlaeA mutant. LaeA influences the expression of at least 9.5% of the genome (943 of 9,626 genes in A. fumigatus) but positively controls expression of 20% to 40% of major classes of secondary metabolite biosynthesis genes such as nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs), polyketide synthases, and P450 monooxygenases. Tight regulation of NRPS-encoding genes was highlighted by quantitative real-time reverse-transcription PCR analysis. In addition, expression of a putative siderophore biosynthesis NRPS (NRPS2/sidE) was greatly reduced in the ΔlaeA mutant in comparison to controls under inducing iron-deficient conditions. Comparative genomic analysis showed that A. fumigatus secondary metabolite gene clusters constitute evolutionarily diverse regions that may be important for niche adaptation and virulence attributes. Our findings suggest that LaeA is a novel target for comprehensive modification of chemical diversity and pathogenicity.
Author Summary
Patients with suppressed immune systems due to cancer treatments, HIV/AIDS, or organ transplantation are at high risk of infection from microbes. Some of the most deadly infections for such patients arise from a fungal pathogen, Aspergillus fumigatus. This species, like several of its close relatives, can produce an array of small chemical compounds that influences both the infection process and its environmental niche outside of the host. The genes dedicated to production of each compound are clustered adjacent to each other in the genome. One protein named LaeA is a master regulator of such clustered small molecule genes, and removal of the gene encoding LaeA cripples the organism's ability to infect. We conducted a genome-wide microarray experiment to identify small molecule gene clusters controlled by the presence of LaeA in A. fumigatus. In doing so, we identified actively expressed gene clusters critical for small molecule production and potentially involved in disease progression. These results also provide insight into evolutionary events shaping the organism's collection of chemical compounds.
PMCID: PMC1851976  PMID: 17432932
25.  Allergens/Antigens, Toxins and Polyketides of Important Aspergillus Species 
The medical, agricultural and biotechnological importance of the primitive eukaryotic microorganisms, the Fungi was recognized way back in 1920. Among various groups of fungi, the Aspergillus species are studied in great detail using advances in genomics and proteomics to unravel biological and molecular mechanisms in these fungi. Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus parasiticus, Aspergillus nidulans and Aspergillus terreus are some of the important species relevant to human, agricultural and biotechnological applications. The potential of Aspergillus species to produce highly diversified complex biomolecules such as multifunctional proteins (allergens, antigens, enzymes) and polyketides is fascinating and demands greater insight into the understanding of these fungal species for application to human health. Recently a regulator gene for secondary metabolites, LaeA has been identified. Gene mining based on LaeA has facilitated new metabolites with antimicrobial activity such as emericellamides and antitumor activity such as terrequinone A from A. nidulans. Immunoproteomic approach was reported for identification of few novel allergens for A. fumigatus. In this context, the review is focused on recent developments in allergens, antigens, structural and functional diversity of the polyketide synthases that produce polyketides of pharmaceutical and biological importance. Possible antifungal drug targets for development of effective antifungal drugs and new strategies for development of molecular diagnostics are considered.
PMCID: PMC3107401  PMID: 22468035
Aspergillus species; Allergens; Polyketides

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