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1.  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
2.  Conidiation Color Mutants of Aspergillus fumigatus Are Highly Pathogenic to the Heterologous Insect Host Galleria mellonella 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(1):e4224.
The greater wax moth Galleria mellonella has been widely used as a heterologous host for a number of fungal pathogens including Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans. A positive correlation in pathogenicity of these yeasts in this insect model and animal models has been observed. However, very few studies have evaluated the possibility of applying this heterologous insect model to investigate virulence traits of the filamentous fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus, the leading cause of invasive aspergillosis. Here, we have examined the impact of mutations in genes involved in melanin biosynthesis on the pathogenicity of A. fumigatus in the G. mellonella model. Melanization in A. fumigatus confers bluish-grey color to conidia and is a known virulence factor in mammal models. Surprisingly, conidial color mutants in B5233 background that have deletions in the defined six-gene cluster required for DHN-melanin biosynthesis caused enhanced insect mortality compared to the parent strain. To further examine and confirm the relationship between melanization defects and enhanced virulence in the wax moth model, we performed random insertional mutagenesis in the Af293 genetic background to isolate mutants producing altered conidia colors. Strains producing conidia of previously identified colors and of novel colors were isolated. Interestingly, these color mutants displayed a higher level of pathogenicity in the insect model compared to the wild type. Although some of the more virulent color mutants showed increased resistance to hydrogen peroxide, overall phenotypic characterizations including secondary metabolite production, metalloproteinase activity, and germination rate did not reveal a general mechanism accountable for the enhanced virulence of these color mutants observed in the insect model. Our observations indicate instead, that exacerbated immune response of the wax moth induced by increased exposure of PAMPs (pathogen-associated molecular patterns) may cause self-damage that results in increased mortality of larvae infected with the color mutants. The current study underscores the limitations of using this insect model for inferring the pathogenic potential of A. fumigatus strains in mammals, but also points to the importance of understanding the innate immunity of the insect host in providing insights into the pathogenicity level of different fungal strains in this model. Additionally, our observations that melanization defective color mutants demonstrate increased virulence in the insect wax moth, suggest the potential of using melanization defective mutants of native insect fungal pathogens in the biological control of insect populations.
PMCID: PMC2625396  PMID: 19156203
3.  Role of laeA in the Regulation of alb1, gliP, Conidial Morphology, and Virulence in Aspergillus fumigatus▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2007;6(9):1552-1561.
The alb1 (pksP) gene has been reported as a virulence factor controlling the pigmentation and morphology of conidia in Aspergillus fumigatus. A recent report suggested that laeA regulates alb1 expression and conidial morphology but not pigmentation in the A. fumigatus strain AF293. laeA has also been reported to regulate the synthesis of secondary metabolites, such as gliotoxin. We compared the role of laeA in the regulation of conidial morphology and the expression of alb1 and gliP in strains B-5233 and AF293, which differ in colony morphology and nutritional requirements. Deletion of laeA did not affect conidial morphology or pigmentation in these strains, suggesting that laeA is not involved in alb1 regulation during conidial morphogenesis. Deletion of laeA, however, caused down-regulation of alb1 during mycelial growth in a liquid medium. Transcription of gliP, involved in the synthesis of gliotoxin, was drastically reduced in B-5233laeAΔ, and the gliotoxin level found in the culture filtrates was 20% of wild-type concentrations. While up-regulation of gliP in AF293 was comparable to that in B-5233, the relative mRNA level in AF293laeAΔ was about fourfold lower than that in B-5233laeAΔ. Strain B-5233laeAΔ caused slower onset of fatal infection in mice relative to that with B-5233. Histopathology of sections from lungs of infected mice corroborated the survival data. Culture filtrates from B-5233laeAΔ caused reduced death in thymoma cells and were less inhibitory to a respiratory burst of neutrophils than culture filtrates from B-5233. Our results suggest that while laeA is not involved in the regulation of alb1 function in conidial morphology, it regulates the synthesis of gliotoxin and the virulence of A. fumigatus.
PMCID: PMC2043373  PMID: 17630330
4.  Characterization of a polyketide synthase in Aspergillus niger whose product is a precursor for both dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN) melanin and naphtho-γ-pyrone 
The genome sequencing of the fungus Aspergillus niger uncovered a large cache of genes encoding enzymes thought to be involved in the production of secondary metabolites yet to be identified. Identification and structural characterization of many of these predicted secondary metabolites are hampered by their low concentration relative to the known A. niger metabolites such as the naphtho-γ-pyrone family of polyketides. We deleted a nonreducing PKS gene in A. niger strain ATCC 11414, a daughter strain of A. niger ATCC strain 1015 whose genome was sequenced by the DOE Joint Genome Institute. This PKS encoding gene we name albA is a predicted ortholog of alb1 from Aspergillus fumigatus which is responsible for production of the naphtho-γ-pyrone precursor for the 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN) melanin/spore pigment. Our results show that the A. nigeralbA PKS is responsible for both the production of the spore pigment precursor and a family of naphtho-γ-pyrones commonly found in significant quantity in A. niger culture extracts. The generation of an A. niger strain devoid of naphtho-γ-pyrones will greatly facilitate the elucidation of cryptic biosynthetic pathways in this organism.
PMCID: PMC3118676  PMID: 21176790
Secondary Metabolism; Aspergillus niger; Natural Products; Genomics; Naphtho-γ-pyrone; Polyketides
5.  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
6.  Transcriptional Profiling Identifies a Role for BrlA in the Response to Nitrogen Depletion and for StuA in the Regulation of Secondary Metabolite Clusters in Aspergillus fumigatus▿ ‡ 
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;8(1):104-115.
Conidiation (asexual sporulation) is a key developmental process in filamentous fungi. We examined the gene regulatory roles of the Aspergillus fumigatus developmental transcription factors StuAp and BrlAp during conidiation. Conidiation was completely abrogated in an A. fumigatus ΔbrlA mutant and was severely impaired in a ΔstuA mutant. We determined the full genome conidiation transcriptomes of wild-type and ΔbrlA and ΔstuA mutant A. fumigatus and found that BrlAp and StuAp governed overlapping but distinct transcriptional programs. Six secondary metabolite biosynthetic clusters were found to be regulated by StuAp, while only one cluster exhibited BrlAp-dependent expression. The ΔbrlA mutant, but not the ΔstuA mutant, had impaired downregulation of genes encoding ribosomal proteins under nitrogen-limiting, but not carbon-limiting, conditions. Interestingly, inhibition of the target of rapamycin (TOR) pathway also caused downregulation of ribosomal protein genes in both the wild-type strain and the ΔbrlA mutant. Downregulation of these genes by TOR inhibition was associated with conidiation in the wild-type strain but not in the ΔbrlA mutant. Therefore, BrlAp-mediated repression of ribosomal protein gene expression is not downstream of the TOR pathway. Furthermore, inhibition of ribosomal protein gene expression is not sufficient to induce conidiation in the absence of BrlAp.
PMCID: PMC2620752  PMID: 19028996
7.  Production of Pyomelanin, a Second Type of Melanin, via the Tyrosine Degradation Pathway in Aspergillus fumigatus▿  
Aspergillus fumigatus is the most important airborne fungal pathogen of immunosuppressed humans. A. fumigatus is able to produce dihydroxynaphthalene melanin, which is predominantly present in the conidia. Its biosynthesis is an important virulence determinant. Here, we show that A. fumigatus is able to produce an alternative melanin, i.e., pyomelanin, by a different pathway, starting from l-tyrosine. Proteome analysis indicated that the l-tyrosine degradation enzymes are synthesized when the fungus is grown with l-tyrosine in the medium. To investigate the pathway in detail, we deleted the genes encoding essential enzymes for pigment production, homogentisate dioxygenase (hmgA) and 4-hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (hppD). Comparative Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy of synthetic pyomelanin and pigment extracted from A. fumigatus cultures confirmed the identity of the observed pigment as pyomelanin. In the hmgA deletion strain, HmgA activity was abolished and the accumulation of homogentisic acid provoked an increased pigment formation. In contrast, homogentisic acid and pyomelanin were not observed with an hppD deletion mutant. Germlings of the hppD deletion mutant showed an increased sensitivity to reactive oxygen intermediates. The transcription of both studied genes was induced by l-tyrosine. These results confirmed the function of the deleted genes and the predicted pathway in A. fumigatus. Homogentisic acid is the major intermediate, and the l-tyrosine degradation pathway leading to pyomelanin is similar to that in humans leading to alkaptomelanin.
PMCID: PMC2620705  PMID: 19028908
8.  Biosynthesis and Functions of Melanin in Sporothrix schenckii 
Infection and Immunity  2000;68(6):3696-3703.
Sporothrix schenckii is a human pathogen that causes sporotrichosis, an important cutaneous mycosis with a worldwide distribution. It produces dark-brown conidia, which infect the host. We found that S. schenckii synthesizes melanin via the 1,8-dihydroxynaphthalene pentaketide pathway. Melanin biosynthesis in the wild type was inhibited by tricyclazole, and colonies of the fungus were reddish brown instead of black on tricyclazole-amended medium. Two melanin-deficient mutant strains were analyzed in this study: an albino that produced normal-appearing melanin on scytalone-amended medium and a reddish brown mutant that accumulated and extruded melanin metabolites into its medium. Scytalone and flaviolin obtained from cultures of the reddish brown mutant were identified by thin-layer chromatography, high-performance liquid chromatography, and UV spectra. Transmission electron microscopy showed an electron-dense granular material believed to be melanin in wild-type conidial cell walls, and this was absent in conidial walls of the albino mutant unless the albino was grown on a scytalone-amended medium. Melanized cells of wild-type S. schenckii and the albino grown on scytalone-amended medium were less susceptible to killing by chemically generated oxygen- and nitrogen-derived radicals and by UV light than were conidia of the mutant strains. Melanized conidia of the wild type and the scytalone-treated albino were also more resistant to phagocytosis and killing by human monocytes and murine macrophages than were unmelanized conidia of the two mutants. These results demonstrate that melanin protects S. schenckii against certain oxidative antimicrobial compounds and against attack by macrophages.
PMCID: PMC97661  PMID: 10816530
9.  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
10.  Isolation and Characterization of Sexual Spore Pigments from Aspergillus nidulans 
The homothallic ascomycete Aspergillus nidulans produces two types of pigmented spores: conidia and ascospores. The synthesis and localization of the spore pigments is developmentally regulated and occurs in specialized cell types. On the basis of spectroscopic evidence, we propose that the major ascospore pigment of A. nidulans (ascoquinone A) is a novel dimeric hydroxylated anthraquinone. The structure of ascoquinone A, as well as a comparison to model compounds, suggests that it is the product of a polyketide synthase. Previous studies have revealed that the conidial pigments from A. nidulans and a related Aspergillus species (A. parasiticus) also appear to be produced via polymerization of polyketide precursors (D. W. Brown, F. M. Hauser, R. Tommasi, S. Corlett, and J. J. Salvo, Tetrahedron Lett. 34:419-422, 1993; M. E. Mayorga and W. E. Timberlake, Mol. Gen. Genet. 235:205-212, 1992). The structural similarity between the ascospore pigment and the toxic anthraquinone norsolorinic acid, the first stable intermediate in the aflatoxin pathway, suggests an evolutionary relationship between the respective polyketide synthase systems.
PMCID: PMC201420  PMID: 16349224
11.  Interaction of Human Phagocytes with Pigmentless Aspergillus Conidia 
Infection and Immunity  2000;68(6):3736-3739.
A defect in the pksP gene of Aspergillus fumigatus is associated with the loss of conidial pigmentation, a profound change of the conidial surface structure, and reduced virulence. The structural change of the conidial surface structure was not observed in similar A. nidulans wA mutants. Our data indicate that the pigment of both species is important for scavenging reactive oxygen species and for protection of conidia against oxidative damage.
PMCID: PMC97669  PMID: 10816538
12.  Novel Polyketide Synthase from Nectria haematococca 
We identified a polyketide synthase (PKS) gene, pksN, from a strain of Nectria haematococca by complementing a mutant unable to synthesize a red perithecial pigment. pksN encodes a 2,106-amino-acid polypeptide with conserved motifs characteristic of type I PKS enzymatic domains: β-ketoacyl synthase, acyltransferase, duplicated acyl carrier proteins, and thioesterase. The pksN product groups with the Aspergillus nidulans WA-type PKSs involved in conidial pigmentation and melanin, bikaverin, and aflatoxin biosynthetic pathways. Inactivation of pksN did not cause any visible change in fungal growth, asexual sporulation, or ascospore formation, suggesting that it is involved in a specific developmental function. We propose that pksN encodes a novel PKS required for the perithecial red pigment biosynthesis.
PMCID: PMC404382  PMID: 15128560
13.  Conidial Dihydroxynaphthalene Melanin of the Human Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus Interferes with the Host Endocytosis Pathway 
Aspergillus fumigatus is the most important air-borne fungal pathogen of humans. The interaction of the pathogen with the host's immune system represents a key process to understand pathogenicity. For elimination of invading microorganisms, they need to be efficiently phagocytosed and located in acidified phagolysosomes. However, as shown previously, A. fumigatus is able to manipulate the formation of functional phagolysosomes. Here, we demonstrate that in contrast to pigmentless pksP mutant conidia of A. fumigatus, the gray-green wild-type conidia inhibit the acidification of phagolysosomes of alveolar macrophages, monocyte-derived macrophages, and human neutrophil granulocytes. Therefore, this inhibition is independent of the cell type and applies to the major immune effector cells required for defense against A. fumigatus. Studies with melanin ghosts indicate that the inhibitory effect of wild-type conidia is due to their dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-melanin covering the conidia, whereas the hydrophobin RodA rodlet layer plays no role in this process. This is also supported by the observation that pksP conidia still exhibit the RodA hydrophobin layer, as shown by scanning electron microscopy. Mutants defective in different steps of the DHN-melanin biosynthesis showed stronger inhibition than pksP mutant conidia but lower inhibition than wild-type conidia. Moreover, A. fumigatus and A. flavus led to a stronger inhibition of phagolysosomal acidification than A. nidulans and A. terreus. These data indicate that a certain type of DHN-melanin that is different in the various Aspergillus species, is required for maximal inhibition of phagolysosomal acidification. Finally, we identified the vacuolar ATPase (vATPase) as potential target for A. fumigatus based on the finding that addition of bafilomycin which inhibits vATPase, led to complete inhibition of the acidification whereas the fusion of phagosomes containing wild-type conidia and lysosomes was not affected.
PMCID: PMC3128974  PMID: 21747802
Aspergillus fumigatus; endocytosis; melanin; neutrophils; macrophages; phagolysosome; virulence
14.  Aspergillus fumigatus MedA governs adherence, host cell interactions and virulence 
Cellular Microbiology  2009;12(4):473-488.
In medically important fungi, regulatory elements that control development and asexual reproduction often govern the expression of virulence traits. We therefore cloned the Aspergillus fumigatus developmental modifier MedA and characterized its role in conidiation, host cell interactions and virulence. As in the model organism Aspergillus nidulans, disruption of medA in A. fumigatus dramatically reduced conidiation. However, the conidiophore morphology was markedly different between the two species. Further, gene expression analysis suggested that MedA governs conidiation through different pathways in A. fumigatus compared to A. nidulans. The A. fumigatus ΔmedA strain was impaired in biofilm production and adherence to plastic, as well as adherence to pulmonary epithelial cells, endothelial cells and fibronectin in vitro. The ΔmedA strain also had reduced capacity to damage pulmonary epithelial cells, and stimulate pro-inflammatory cytokine mRNA and protein expression. Consistent with these results, the A. fumigatus ΔmedA strain also exhibited reduced virulence in both an invertebrate and a mammalian model of invasive aspergillosis. Collectively these results suggest that the downstream targets of A. fumigatus MedA mediate virulence, and may provide novel therapeutic targets for invasive aspergillosis.
PMCID: PMC3370655  PMID: 19889083
Aspergillus fumigatus; conidiation; adherence; biofilm; virulence
15.  Agrobacterium tumefaciens-Mediated Transformation of Aspergillus fumigatus: an Efficient Tool for Insertional Mutagenesis and Targeted Gene Disruption 
Agrobacterium tumefaciens was used to transform Aspergillus fumigatus by either random or site-directed integration of transforming DNA (T-DNA). Random mutagenesis via Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation (ATMT) was accomplished with T-DNA containing a hygromycin resistance cassette. Cocultivation of A. fumigatus conidia and Agrobacterium (1:10 ratio) for 48 h at 24°C resulted in high frequencies of transformation (>100 transformants/107 conidia). The majority of transformants harbored a randomly integrated single copy of T-DNA and were mitotically stable. We chose alb1, a polyketide synthase gene, as the target gene for homologous integration because of the clear phenotype difference between the white colonies of Δalb1 mutant strains and the bluish-green colonies of wild-type strains. ATMT with a T-DNA-containing alb1 disruption construct resulted in 66% albino transformants. Southern analysis revealed that 19 of the 20 randomly chosen albino transformants (95%) were disrupted by homologous recombination. These results suggest that ATMT is an efficient tool for transformation, random insertional mutagenesis, and gene disruption in A. fumigatus.
PMCID: PMC1082565  PMID: 15812003
16.  Deletion of the α-(1,3)-Glucan Synthase Genes Induces a Restructuring of the Conidial Cell Wall Responsible for the Avirulence of Aspergillus fumigatus 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(11):e1003716.
α-(1,3)-Glucan is a major component of the cell wall of Aspergillus fumigatus, an opportunistic human fungal pathogen. There are three genes (AGS1, AGS2 and AGS3) controlling the biosynthesis of α-(1,3)-glucan in this fungal species. Deletion of all the three AGS genes resulted in a triple mutant that was devoid of α-(1,3)-glucan in its cell wall; however, its growth and germination was identical to that of the parental strain in vitro. In the experimental murine aspergillosis model, this mutant was less pathogenic than the parental strain. The AGS deletion resulted in an extensive structural modification of the conidial cell wall, especially conidial surface where the rodlet layer was covered by an amorphous glycoprotein matrix. This surface modification was responsible for viability reduction of conidia in vivo, which explains decrease in the virulence of triple agsΔ mutant.
Author Summary
Aspergillus fumigatus is the predominant mold pathogen of humans, responsible for life-threatening systemic infections in patients with depressed immunity. Because of its external localization and specific composition, the fungal cell wall represents a target for recognition by and interaction with the host immune cells. In A. fumigatus, α-(1,3)-glucan is a key component of the extracellular matrix, which encloses the cell wall β-(1,3)-glucan-chitin fibrillar core. Interestingly, the deletion of the genes responsible for α-(1,3)-glucan synthesis resulted in a mutant that exhibited wild type phenotype in vitro; while the altered cell wall organization resulted in this fungus being avirulent in vivo. This study confirms that any modification in the cell wall components is associated with compensatory reactions developed by the fungus to counteract stress on the cell wall that may result in unexpected fungal response when challenged with the host immune system.
PMCID: PMC3828178  PMID: 24244155
17.  Melanin Biosynthesis in the Maize Pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus Depends on Two Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Chk1 and Mps1, and the Transcription Factor Cmr1▿ †  
Eukaryotic Cell  2007;6(3):421-429.
The maize pathogen Cochliobolus heterostrophus requires two mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), Chk1 and Mps1, to produce normal pigmentation. Young colonies of mps1 and chk1 deletion mutants have a white and autolytic appearance, which was partially rescued by a hyperosmotic environment. We isolated the transcription factor Cmr1, an ortholog of Colletotrichum lagenarium Cmr1 and Magnaporthe grisea Pig1, which regulates melanin biosynthesis in C. heterostrophus. Deletion of CMR1 in C. heterostrophus resulted in mutants that lacked dark pigmentation and acquired an orange-pink color. In cmr1 deletion strains the expression of putative scytalone dehydratase (SCD1) and hydroxynaphthalene reductase (BRN1 and BRN2) genes involved in melanin biosynthesis was undetectable, whereas expression of PKS18, encoding a polyketide synthase, was only moderately reduced. In chk1 and mps1 mutants expression of PKS18, SCD1, BRN1, BRN2, and the transcription factor CMR1 itself was very low in young colonies, slightly up-regulated in aging colonies, and significantly induced in hyperosmotic conditions, compared to invariably high expression in the wild type. These findings indicate that two MAPKs, Chk1 and Mps1, affect Cmr1 at the transcriptional level and this influence is partially overridden in stress conditions including aging culture and hyperosmotic environment. Surprisingly, we found that the CMR1 gene was transcribed in both sense and antisense directions, apparently producing mRNA as well as a long noncoding RNA transcript. Expression of the antisense CMR1 was also Chk1 and Mps1 dependent. Analysis of chromosomal location of the melanin biosynthesis genes in C. heterostrophus resulted in identification of a small gene cluster comprising BRN1, CMR1, and PKS18. Since expression of all three genes depends on Chk1 and Mps1 MAPKs, we suggest their possible epigenetic regulation.
PMCID: PMC1828933  PMID: 17237364
18.  Distinct Roles for Intra- and Extracellular Siderophores during Aspergillus fumigatus Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2007;3(9):e128.
Siderophore biosynthesis by the highly lethal mould Aspergillus fumigatus is essential for virulence, but non-existent in humans, presenting a rare opportunity to strategize therapeutically against this pathogen. We have previously demonstrated that A. fumigatus excretes fusarinine C and triacetylfusarinine C to capture extracellular iron, and uses ferricrocin for hyphal iron storage. Here, we delineate pathways of intra- and extracellular siderophore biosynthesis and show that A. fumigatus synthesizes a developmentally regulated fourth siderophore, termed hydroxyferricrocin, employed for conidial iron storage. By inactivation of the nonribosomal peptide synthetase SidC, we demonstrate that the intracellular siderophores are required for germ tube formation, asexual sporulation, resistance to oxidative stress, catalase A activity, and virulence. Restoration of the conidial hydroxyferricrocin content partially rescues the virulence of the apathogenic siderophore null mutant ΔsidA, demonstrating an important role for the conidial siderophore during initiation of infection. Abrogation of extracellular siderophore biosynthesis following inactivation of the acyl transferase SidF or the nonribosomal peptide synthetase SidD leads to complete dependence upon reductive iron assimilation for growth under iron-limiting conditions, partial sensitivity to oxidative stress, and significantly reduced virulence, despite normal germ tube formation. Our findings reveal distinct cellular and disease-related roles for intra- and extracellular siderophores during mammalian Aspergillus infection.
Author Summary
Patients with suppressed immune systems due to cancer treatments, HIV/AIDS, organ transplantation, or genetic disorders are at high risk of infection with the ubiquitously present fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Treatments for this disease, collectively termed invasive aspergillosis, are often not successful, and prospects for survival can be slim. A. fumigatus produces small molecules, termed siderophores, for acquisition and storage of iron, an element essential for growth. We found that these siderophores are crucial for virulence of A. fumigatus because their removal (by gene deletion) prevents or lessens disease in a mouse model of invasive aspergillosis. Siderophores are not produced by humans so they present good prospects for new therapies, as drugs that specifically target siderophore production, rather than activities shared by humans and fungi, are less likely to affect patients adversely.
PMCID: PMC1971116  PMID: 17845073
19.  H3K9 Methylation Regulates Growth and Development in Aspergillus fumigatus▿  
Eukaryotic Cell  2008;7(12):2052-2060.
In most species, chromatin remodeling mediates critical biological processes ranging from development to disease states. In fungi within the genus Aspergillus, chromatin remodeling may regulate expression of metabolic gene clusters, but other processes regulated by chromatin structure remain to be elucidated. In many eukaryotic species, methylation of lysine 9 of histone 3 (H3K9) is a hallmark of heterochromatin formation and subsequent gene silencing. The sole H3K9 methyltransferase in Schizosaccharomyces pombe is Clr4. We report that disruption of the Clr4 homolog in the pathogenic mold Aspergillus fumigatus (ClrD), which is involved in both mono- and trimethylation of H3K9, results in several growth abnormalities. Developmental defects in ΔAfclrD include reduction in radial growth, reduction in conidial production, and delayed conidiation after developmental competence mediated by delayed expression of brlA, the master regulator of conidiophore development. Sensitivity of ΔAfclrD to 6-azauracil suggests that ClrD influences transcriptional processing in A. fumigatus. Despite growth abnormalities, macrophage assays suggest ClrD may be dispensable for host interactions.
PMCID: PMC2593193  PMID: 18849468
20.  Upstream and Downstream Regulation of Asexual Development in Aspergillus fumigatus†  
Eukaryotic Cell  2006;5(10):1585-1595.
The opportunistic human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus produces a large quantity of asexual spores (conidia), which are the primary agent causing invasive aspergillosis in immunocompromised patients. We investigated the mechanisms controlling asexual sporulation (conidiation) in A. fumigatus via examining functions of four key regulators, GpaA (Gα), AfFlbA (RGS), AfFluG, and AfBrlA, previously studied in Aspergillus nidulans. Expression analyses of gpaA, AfflbA, AffluG, AfbrlA, and AfwetA throughout the life cycle of A. fumigatus revealed that, while transcripts of AfflbA and AffluG accumulate constantly, the latter two downstream developmental regulators are specifically expressed during conidiation. Both loss-of-function AfflbA and dominant activating GpaAQ204L mutations resulted in reduced conidiation with increased hyphal proliferation, indicating that GpaA signaling activates vegetative growth while inhibiting conidiation. As GpaA is the primary target of AfFlbA, the dominant interfering GpaAG203R mutation suppressed reduced conidiation caused by loss of AfflbA function. These results corroborate the hypothesis that functions of G proteins and RGSs are conserved in aspergilli. We then examined functions of the two major developmental activators AfFluG and AfBrlA. While deletion of AfbrlA eliminated conidiation completely, null mutation of AffluG did not cause severe alterations in A. fumigatus sporulation in air-exposed culture, implying that, whereas the two aspergilli may have a common key downstream developmental activator, upstream mechanisms activating brlA may be distinct. Finally, both AffluG and AfflbA mutants showed reduced conidiation and delayed expression of AfbrlA in synchronized developmental induction, indicating that these upstream regulators contribute to the proper progression of conidiation.
PMCID: PMC1595350  PMID: 17030990
21.  The Putative Guanine Nucleotide Exchange Factor RicA Mediates Upstream Signaling for Growth and Development in Aspergillus 
Eukaryotic Cell  2012;11(11):1399-1412.
Heterotrimeric G proteins (G proteins) govern growth, development, and secondary metabolism in various fungi. Here, we characterized ricA, which encodes a putative GDP/GTP exchange factor for G proteins in the model fungus Aspergillus nidulans and the opportunistic human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. In both species, ricA mRNA accumulates during vegetative growth and early developmental phases, but it is not present in spores. The deletion of ricA results in severely impaired colony growth and the total (for A. nidulans) or near (for A. fumigatus) absence of asexual sporulation (conidiation). The overexpression (OE) of the A. fumigatus ricA gene (AfricA) restores growth and conidiation in the ΔAnricA mutant to some extent, indicating partial conservation of RicA function in Aspergillus. A series of double mutant analyses revealed that the removal of RgsA (an RGS protein of the GanB Gα subunit), but not sfgA, flbA, rgsB, or rgsC, restored vegetative growth and conidiation in ΔAnricA. Furthermore, we found that RicA can physically interact with GanB in yeast and in vitro. Moreover, the presence of two copies or OE of pkaA suppresses the profound defects caused by ΔAnricA, indicating that RicA-mediated growth and developmental signaling is primarily through GanB and PkaA in A. nidulans. Despite the lack of conidiation, brlA and vosA mRNAs accumulated to normal levels in the ΔricA mutant. In addition, mutants overexpressing fluG or brlA (OEfluG or OEbrlA) failed to restore development in the ΔAnricA mutant. These findings suggest that the commencement of asexual development requires unknown RicA-mediated signaling input in A. nidulans.
PMCID: PMC3486022  PMID: 23002107
22.  Enhancing the Stress Tolerance and Virulence of an Entomopathogen by Metabolic Engineering of Dihydroxynaphthalene Melanin Biosynthesis Genes ▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(13):4508-4519.
Entomopathogenic fungi have been used for biocontrol of insect pests for many decades. However, the efficacy of such fungi in field trials is often inconsistent, mainly due to environmental stresses, such as UV radiation, temperature extremes, and desiccation. To circumvent these hurdles, metabolic engineering of dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN) melanin biosynthetic genes (polyketide synthase, scytalone dehydratase, and 1,3,8-trihydroxynaphthalene reductase genes) cloned from Alternaria alternata were transformed into the amelanotic entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Melanin expression in the transformant of M. anisopliae was verified by spectrophotometric methods, liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS), and confocal microscopy. The transformant, especially under stresses, showed notably enhanced antistress capacity and virulence, in terms of germination and survival rate, infectivity, and reduced median time to death (LT50) in killing diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) larvae compared with the wild type. The possible mechanisms in enhancing the stress tolerance and virulence, and the significance and potential for engineering melanin biosynthesis genes in other biocontrol agents and crops to improve antistress fitness are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3127726  PMID: 21571888
23.  Isolation and characterization of a pigmentless-conidium mutant of Aspergillus fumigatus with altered conidial surface and reduced virulence. 
Infection and Immunity  1997;65(12):5110-5117.
Aspergillus fumigatus is an important pathogen of immunocompromised hosts, causing pneumonia and invasive disseminated disease with high mortality. The factors contributing to the predominance of A. fumigatus as an opportunistic pathogen are largely unknown. Since the survival of conidia in the host is a prerequisite for establishing disease, we have been attempting to identify factors which are associated with conidia and, simultaneously, important for infection. Therefore, an A. fumigatus mutant strain (white [W]) lacking conidial pigmentation was isolated. Scanning electron microscopy revealed that conidia of the W mutant also differed in their surface morphology from those of the wild type (WT). Mutant (W) and WT conidia were compared with respect to their capacities to stimulate an oxidative response in human phagocytes, their intracellular survival in human monocytes, and virulence in a murine animal model. Luminol-dependent chemiluminescence was 10-fold higher when human neutrophils or monocytes were challenged with W conidia compared with WT conidia. Furthermore, mutant conidia were more susceptible to killing by oxidants in vitro and were more efficiently damaged by human monocytes in vitro than WT conidia. In a murine animal model, the W mutant strain showed reduced virulence compared with the WT. A reversion analysis of the W mutant demonstrated that all phenotypes associated with the W mutant, i.e., altered conidial surface, amount of reactive oxygen species release, susceptibility to hydrogen peroxide, and reduced virulence in an murine animal model, coreverted in revertants which had regained the ability to produce green spores. This finding strongly suggests that the A. fumigatus mutant described here carries a single mutation which caused all of the observed phenotypes. Our results suggest that the conidium pigment or a structural feature related to it contributes to fungal resistance against host defense mechanisms in A. fumigatus infections.
PMCID: PMC175736  PMID: 9393803
24.  TmpL, a Transmembrane Protein Required for Intracellular Redox Homeostasis and Virulence in a Plant and an Animal Fungal Pathogen 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(11):e1000653.
The regulation of intracellular levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is critical for developmental differentiation and virulence of many pathogenic fungi. In this report we demonstrate that a novel transmembrane protein, TmpL, is necessary for regulation of intracellular ROS levels and tolerance to external ROS, and is required for infection of plants by the necrotroph Alternaria brassicicola and for infection of mammals by the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. In both fungi, tmpL encodes a predicted hybrid membrane protein containing an AMP-binding domain, six putative transmembrane domains, and an experimentally-validated FAD/NAD(P)-binding domain. Localization and gene expression analyses in A. brassicicola indicated that TmpL is associated with the Woronin body, a specialized peroxisome, and strongly expressed during conidiation and initial invasive growth in planta. A. brassicicola and A. fumigatus ΔtmpL strains exhibited abnormal conidiogenesis, accelerated aging, enhanced oxidative burst during conidiation, and hypersensitivity to oxidative stress when compared to wild-type or reconstituted strains. Moreover, A. brassicicola ΔtmpL strains, although capable of initial penetration, exhibited dramatically reduced invasive growth on Brassicas and Arabidopsis. Similarly, an A. fumigatus ΔtmpL mutant was dramatically less virulent than the wild-type and reconstituted strains in a murine model of invasive aspergillosis. Constitutive expression of the A. brassicicola yap1 ortholog in an A. brassicicola ΔtmpL strain resulted in high expression levels of genes associated with oxidative stress tolerance. Overexpression of yap1 in the ΔtmpL background complemented the majority of observed developmental phenotypic changes and partially restored virulence on plants. Yap1-GFP fusion strains utilizing the native yap1 promoter exhibited constitutive nuclear localization in the A. brassicicola ΔtmpL background. Collectively, we have discovered a novel protein involved in the virulence of both plant and animal fungal pathogens. Our results strongly suggest that dysregulation of oxidative stress homeostasis in the absence of TmpL is the underpinning cause of the developmental and virulence defects observed in these studies.
Author Summary
The critical roles of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in fungal development and virulence have been well established over the past half a century since the first experimental detection of hydrogen peroxide in fungal cells by Bach (1950). In the cell, ROS act as signaling molecules regulating physiological responses and developmental processes and are also involved in sophisticated virulence processes for many pathogenic fungi. Therefore, uncovering the biological roles of cellular ROS appears to be very important in understanding fungal development and virulence. Currently we have limited knowledge of how intracellular ROS are generated by fungal cells and which cellular ROS regulatory mechanisms are involved in establishing homeostasis. In this study we describe a novel protein, TmpL, involved in development and virulence in both plant and animal pathogenic fungi. In the absence of TmpL, dysregulation of oxidative stress homeostasis in both fungi caused developmental and virulence defects. Therefore, elucidating the role of TmpL presents an opportunity to uncover a common pathogenicity mechanism employed by both plant and animal pathogens and to develop efficient and novel therapeutics for both plant and animal fungal disease. Our findings provide new insights into mechanisms underlying the complex web of interactions between ROS and cell differentiation and the involvement of ROS for both plant and animal fungal pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2766074  PMID: 19893627
25.  The Aspergillus fumigatus Transcription Factor Ace2 Governs Pigment Production, Conidiation and Virulence 
Molecular microbiology  2009;72(1):155-169.
Aspergillus fumigatus causes serious and frequently fatal infections in immunocompromised patients. To investigate the regulation of virulence of this fungus, we constructed and analyzed an A. fumigatus mutant that lacked the transcription factor Ace2, which influences virulence in other fungi. The Δace2 mutant had dysmorphic conidiophores, reduced conidia production, and abnormal conidial cell wall architecture. This mutant produced an orange pigment when grown on solid media, although its conidia had normal pigmentation. Conidia of the Δace2 mutant were larger and had accelerated germination. The resulting germlings were resistant to hydrogen peroxide, but not other stressors. Non-neutropenic mice that were immunosuppressed with cortisone acetate and infected with the Δace2 mutant had accelerated mortality, greater pulmonary fungal burden, and increased pulmonary inflammatory responses compared to mice infected with the wild-type or Δace2∷ace2 complemented strains. The Δace2 mutant had reduced ppoC, ecm33, and ags3 mRNA expression. It is known that A. fumigatus mutants with absent or reduced expression of these genes have increased virulence in mice, as well as other phenotypic similarities to the Δace2 mutant. Therefore, reduced expression of these genes likely contributes to the increased virulence of the Δace2 mutant.
PMCID: PMC2690528  PMID: 19220748

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