Cryptococcus neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis among individuals with HIV/AIDS, which is uniformly fatal without proper treatment. The underlying mechanism of disease development in the brain that leads to cryptococcal meningoencephalitis remains incompletely understood. We have previously demonstrated that inositol transporters (ITR) are required for Cryptococcus virulence. The itr1aΔ itr3cΔ double mutant of C. neoformans was attenuated for virulence in a murine model of intra-cerebral infection; demonstrating that Itr1a and Itr3c are required for full virulence during brain infection, despite a similar growth rate between the mutant and wild type strains in the infected brain.
To understand the immune pathology associated with infection by the itr1aΔ itr3cΔ double mutant, we investigated the molecular correlates of host immune response during mouse brain infection. We used genome-wide transcriptome shotgun sequencing (RNA-Seq) and quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) methods to examine the host gene expression profile in the infected brain. Our results show that compared to the wild type, infection of mouse brains by the mutant leads to significant activation of cellular networks/pathways associated with host protective immunity. Most of the significantly differentially expressed genes (SDEG) are part of immune cell networks such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) regulon, indicating that infection by the mutant mounts a stronger host immune response compared to the wild type. Interestingly, a significant reduction in glucuronoxylomannan (GXM) secretion was observed in the itr1aΔ itr3cΔ mutant cells, indicating that inositol utilization pathways play a role in capsule production.
Since capsule has been shown to impact the host response during Cryptococcus-host interactions, our results suggest that the reduced GXM production may contribute to the increased immune activation in the mutant-infected animals.
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Cryptococcus neoformans; Cryptococcal meningoencephalitis; Host immune response; Glucuronoxylomannan; Capsule production; Inositol transporters; Genome-wide transcriptome; Quantitative real-time PCR; Cellular networks; Immune pathways
Cryptococcus neoformans is a human fungal pathogen that often causes lung and brain infections in immunocompromised patients, with a high fatality rate. Our previous results showed that an F-box protein, Fbp1, is essential for Cryptococcus virulence independent of the classical virulence factors, suggesting a novel virulence control mechanism. In this study, we show that Fbp1 is part of the ubiquitin-proteasome system, and we further investigated the mechanism of Fbp1 function during infection. Time course studies revealed that the fbp1Δ mutant causes little damage in the infected lung and that the fungal burden in the lung remains at a low but persistent level throughout infection. The fbp1Δ mutant cannot disseminate to other organs following pulmonary infection in the murine inhalation model of cryptococcosis but still causes brain infection in a murine intravenous injection model, suggesting that the block of dissemination of the fbp1Δ mutant is due to its inability to leave the lung. The fbp1Δ mutant showed a defect in intracellular proliferation after phagocytosis in a Cryptococcus-macrophage interaction assay, which likely contributes to its virulence attenuation. To elucidate the molecular basis of the SCF(Fbp1) E3 ligase function, we analyzed potential Fbp1 substrates based on proteomic approaches combined with phenotypic analysis. One substrate, the inositol phosphosphingolipid-phospholipase C1 (Isc1), is required for fungal survival inside macrophage cells, which is consistent with the role of Fbp1 in regulating Cryptococcus-macrophage interaction and fungal virulence. Our results thus reveal a new determinant of fungal virulence that involves the posttranslational regulation of inositol sphingolipid biosynthesis.
G proteins orchestrate critical cellular functions by transducing extracellular signals into internal signals and controlling cellular responses to environmental cues. G proteins typically function as switches that are activated by G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and negatively controlled by regulator of G protein signaling (RGS) proteins. In the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, three G protein α subunits (Gpa1, Gpa2, and Gpa3) have been identified. In a previous study, we identified the RGS protein Crg2 involved in regulating the pheromone response pathway through Gpa2 and Gpa3. In this study, a role for Crg2 was established in the Gpa1-cAMP signaling pathway that governs mating and virulence. We show that Crg2 physically interacts with Gpa1 and crg2 mutations increase cAMP production. crg2 mutations also enhance mating filament hyphae production, but reduce cell-cell fusion and sporulation efficiency during mating. Although crg2 mutations and the Gpa1 dominant active allele GPA1Q284L enhanced melanin production under normally repressive conditions, virulence was attenuated in a murine model. We conclude that Crg2 participates in controlling both Gpa1-cAMP-virulence and pheromone-mating signaling cascades and hypothesize it may serve as a molecular interface between these two central signaling conduits.
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) comprise the largest superfamily of cell surface receptors, and are primary targets for drug development. A variety of detection systems have been reported to study ligand-GPCR interactions. Using Saccharomyces cerevisiae to express foreign proteins has long been appreciated for its low cost, simplicity, and conserved cellular pathways. The yeast pheromone responsive pathway has been utilized to assess a range of different GPCRs. We have identified a pheromone-like receptor, Cpr2, that is located outside of the MAT locus in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. To characterize its function and potential ligands, we expressed CPR2 in a yeast heterologous expression system. To optimize for CPR2 expression in this system, pheromone receptor Ste3, regulator of G protein signaling (RGS) Sst2, and the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor Far1 were mutated. The lacZ gene was fused with the promoter of the FUS1 gene that is activated by the yeast pheromone signal and then introduced into yeast cells. Expression of CPR2 in this yeast heterologous expression system revealed that Cpr2 could activate the pheromone responsive pathway without additional of potential ligands, suggesting it is a naturally-occurring, constitutively active receptor. Mutation of a single amino acid, Leu222, was sufficient to reverse the constitutive activity of Cpr2. In this report, we summarize methods used for assessing the constitutive activity of Cpr2 and its mutants, which could be beneficial for other GPCR studies.
Cryptococcus is a major fungal pathogen that frequently causes systemic infection in patients with compromised immunity. Glucose, an important signal molecule and the preferred carbon source for Cryptococcus, plays a critical role in fungal development and virulence. Cryptococcus contains more than 50 genes sharing high sequence homology with hexose transporters in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. However, there is no report on their function in glucose sensing or transport. In this study, we investigated two hexose transporter-like proteins (Hxs1 and Hxs2) in Cryptococcus that share the highest sequence identity with the glucose sensors Snf3 and Rgt2 in S. cerevisiae. The expression of HXS1 is repressed by high glucose, while the HXS2 expression is not regulated by glucose. Functional studies showed that Hxs1 is required for fungal resistance to oxidative stress and fungal virulence. The hxs1Δ mutant exhibited a significant reduction in glucose uptake activity, indicating that Hxs1 is required for glucose uptake. Heterologous expression of Cryptococcus HXS1 rendered the S. cerevisiae mutant lacking all 20 hexose transporters a high glucose uptake activity, demonstrating that Hxs1 functions as a glucose transporter. Heterologous expression of HXS1 in the snf3Δ rgt2Δ double mutant did not complement its growth in YPD medium containing the respiration inhibitor antimycin A, suggesting that Hxs1 may not function as a glucose sensor. Taken together, our results demonstrate that Hxs1 is a high-affinity glucose transporter and required for fungal virulence.
Cryptococcus neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis, with high mortality and morbidity. The reason for the frequent occurrence of Cryptococcus infection in the central nervous system (CNS) is poorly understood. The facts that human and animal brains contain abundant inositol and that Cryptococcus has a sophisticated system for the acquisition of inositol from the environment suggests that host inositol utilization may contribute to the development of cryptococcal meningitis. In this study, we found that inositol plays an important role in Cryptococcus traversal across the blood-brain barrier (BBB) both in an in vitro human BBB model and in in vivo animal models. The capacity of inositol to stimulate BBB crossing was dependent upon fungal inositol transporters, indicated by a 70% reduction in transmigration efficiency in mutant strains lacking two major inositol transporters, Itr1a and Itr3c. Upregulation of genes involved in the inositol catabolic pathway was evident in a microarray analysis following inositol treatment. In addition, inositol increased the production of hyaluronic acid in Cryptococcus cells, which is a ligand known to binding host CD44 receptor for their invasion. These studies suggest an inositol-dependent Cryptococcus traversal of the BBB, and support our hypothesis that utilization of host-derived inositol by Cryptococcus contributes to CNS infection.
Cryptococcus neoformans is an AIDS-associated human fungal pathogen that annually causes over 1 million cases of meningitis world-wide, and more than 600,000 attributable deaths. Cryptococcus often causes lung and brain infection and is the leading cause of fungal meningitis in immunosuppressed patients. Why Cryptococcus frequently infects the central nervous system to cause fatal meningitis is an unanswered critical question. Our previous studies revealed a sophisticated inositol acquisition system in Cryptococcus that plays a central role in utilizing environmental inositol to complete its sexual cycle. Here we further demonstrate that inositol acquisition is also important for fungal infection in the brain, where abundant inositol is available. We found that inositol promotes the traversal of Cryptococcus across the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and such stimulation is fungal inositol transporter dependent. We also identified the effects of host inositol on fungal cellular functions that contribute to the stimulation of fungal penetration of the BBB. We propose that inositol utilization is a novel virulence factor for CNS cryptococcosis. Our work lays an important foundation for understanding how fungi respond to available host inositol and indicates the impact of host inositol acquisition on the development of cryptococcal meningitis.
The disease cryptococcosis, caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, is acquired directly from environmental exposure rather than transmitted person-to-person. One explanation for the pathogenicity of this species is that interactions with environmental predators select for virulence. However, co-incubation of C. neoformans with amoeba can cause a “switch” from the normal yeast morphology to a pseudohyphal form, enabling fungi to survive exposure to amoeba, yet conversely reducing virulence in mammalian models of cryptococcosis. Like other human pathogenic fungi, C. neoformans is capable of microevolutionary changes that influence the biology of the organism and outcome of the host-pathogen interaction. A yeast-pseudohyphal phenotypic switch also happens under in vitro conditions. Here, we demonstrate that this morphological switch, rather than being under epigenetic control, is controlled by DNA mutation since all pseudohyphal strains bear mutations within genes encoding components of the RAM pathway. High rates of isolation of pseudohyphal strains can be explained by the physical size of RAM pathway genes and a hypermutator phenotype of the strain used in phenotypic switching studies. Reversion to wild type yeast morphology in vitro or within a mammalian host can occur through different mechanisms, with one being counter-acting mutations. Infection of mice with RAM mutants reveals several outcomes: clearance of the infection, asymptomatic maintenance of the strains, or reversion to wild type forms and progression of disease. These findings demonstrate a key role of mutation events in microevolution to modulate the ability of a fungal pathogen to cause disease.
Many diseases are contracted from the environment, rather than from sick people. It is unclear why those species are able to cause disease, since the selective pressures in the environment are presumed to be very different from those found within the host. Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungus that causes life-threatening lung and central nervous system disease in approximately one million people each year. The fungus is inhaled from environmental sources. One hypothesis to account for C. neoformans virulence is that amoeba are predators for this fungus, and surviving strains are pre-selected to be virulent in the human host. On the other hand, experiments have found that amoeba eat C. neoformans. A pseudohyphal cell type can survive, and while protecting against amoeba these cells are unable to cause disease in mouse models. We predicted that the pseudohyphal morphology reflected a change in function of a pathway of genes, and found that all pseudohyphal isolates contain mutations within genes for this pathway. The pseudohyphal trait is unstable, with reversion to normal yeast growth by counter-acting mutations. These mutations can occur during the course of mammalian infection. Our results show that mutation events account for a microevolution system currently described as phenotypic switching, and that mutations, at least under experimental conditions, can regulate pathogen adaptation and influence its host range.
Casein kinases regulate a wide range of cellular functions in eukaryotes, including phosphorylation of proteins that are substrates for degradation via the ubiquitin-proteasome system (UPS). Our previous study demonstrated that Fbp1, a component of the SCFFBP1 E3 ligase complex, was essential for Cryptococcus virulence. Because the Saccharomyces cerevisiae homolog of Fbp1, Grr1, requires casein kinase I (Yck1 and Yck2) to phosphorylate its substrates, we investigated the function of casein kinase I in Cryptococcus neoformans. In this report, we identified a C. neoformans casein kinase I protein homolog, Cck1. Similar to Fbp1, the expression of Cck1 is negatively regulated by glucose and during mating. cck1 null mutants showed significant virulence attenuation in a murine systemic infection model, but Cck1 was dispensable for the development of classical virulence factors (capsule, melanin, and growth at 37°C). cck1 mutants were hypersensitive to SDS treatment, indicating that Cck1 is required for cell integrity. The functional overlap between Cck1 and Fbp1 suggests that Cck1 may be required for the phosphorylation of Fbp1 substrates. Interestingly, the cck1 mutant also showed increased sensitivity to osmotic stress and oxidative stress, suggesting that Cck1 regulates both cell integrity and the cellular stress response. Our results show that Cck1 regulates the phosphorylation of both Mpk1 and Hog1 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs), demonstrating that Cck1 regulates cell integrity via the Mpk1 pathway and regulates cell adaptation to stresses via the Hog1 pathway. Overall, our study revealed that Cck1 plays important roles in regulating multiple signaling pathways and is required for fungal pathogenicity.
The titan cell is a recently described morphological form of the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. Occurring during the earliest stages of lung infection, titan cells are 5 to 10 times larger than the normal yeast-like cells, thereby resisting engulfment by lung phagocytes and favoring the persistence of infection. These enlarged cells exhibit an altered capsule structure, a thickened cell wall, increased ploidy, and resistance to nitrosative and oxidative stresses. We demonstrate that two G-protein-coupled receptors are important for induction of the titan cell phenotype: the Ste3a pheromone receptor (in mating type a cells) and the Gpr5 protein. Both receptors control titan cell formation through elements of the cyclic AMP (cAMP)/protein kinase A (PKA) pathway. This conserved signaling pathway, in turn, mediates its effect on titan cells through the PKA-regulated Rim101 transcription factor. Additional downstream effectors required for titan cell formation include the G1 cyclin Pcl103, the Rho104 GTPase, and two GTPase-activating proteins, Gap1 and Cnc1560. These observations support developing models in which the PKA signaling pathway coordinately regulates many virulence-associated phenotypes in diverse human pathogens.
Fungal meningitis is a serious disease caused by a fungal infection of the central nervous system (CNS) mostly in individuals with immune system deficiencies. Fungal meningitis is often fatal without proper treatment, and the mortality rate remains unacceptably high even with antifungal drug interventions. Currently, cryptococcal meningitis is the most common fungal meningitis in HIV-1/AIDS, and its disease mechanism has been extensively studied. The key steps for fungi to infect brain and cause meningitis after establishment of local infection are the dissemination of fungal cells to the bloodstream and invasion through the blood brain barrier to reach the CNS. In this review, we use cryptococcal CNS infection as an example to describe the current molecular understanding of fungal meningitis, including the establishment of the infection, dissemination, and brain invasion. Host and microbial factors that contribute to these infection steps are also discussed.
Cryptococcus neoformans; blood-brain barrier; central nervous system; fungus; infection; meningitis
In the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae, the PMK1 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase gene regulates appressorium formation and infectious growth. Its homologs in many other fungi also play critical roles in fungal development and pathogenicity. However, the targets of this important MAP kinase and its interacting genes are not well characterized. In this study, we constructed two yeast two-hybrid libraries of M. oryzae and screened for Pmk1-interacting proteins. Among the nine Pmk1-interacting clones (PICs) identified, two of them, PIC1 and PIC5, were selected for further characterization. Pic1 has one putative nuclear localization signal and one putative MAP kinase phosphorylation site. Pic5 contains one transmembrane domain and two functionally unknown CTNS (cystinosin/ERS1p repeat) motifs. The interaction of Pmk1 with Pic1 or Pic5 was confirmed by coimmunoprecipitation assays. Targeted gene deletion of PIC1 had no apparent effects on vegetative growth and pathogenicity but resulted in a significant reduction in conidiation and abnormal germ tube differentiation on onion epidermal cells. Deletion of PIC5 led to a reduction in conidiation and hyphal growth. Autolysis of aerial hyphae became visible in cultures older than 4 days. The pic5 mutant was defective in germ tube growth and appressorium differentiation. It was reduced in appressorial penetration and virulence on the plant. Both PIC1 and PIC5 are conserved in filamentous ascomycetes, but none of their orthologs have been functionally characterized. Our data indicate that PIC5 is a novel virulence factor involved in appressorium differentiation and pathogenesis in M. oryzae.
Cryptococcus neoformans is the leading cause of fungal meningitis in immunocomprised populations. Although extensive studies have been conducted on signal transduction pathways important for fungal sexual reproduction and virulence, how fungal virulence is regulated during infection is still not understood. In this study, we identified the F-box protein Fbp1, which contains a putative F-box domain and 12 leucine-rich repeats (LRR). Although fbp1 mutants showed normal growth and produced normal major virulence factors, such as melanin and capsule, Fbp1 was found to be essential for fungal virulence, as fbp1 mutants were avirulent in a murine systemic-infection model. Fbp1 is also important for fungal sexual reproduction. Basidiospore production was blocked in bilateral mating between fbp1 mutants, even though normal dikaryotic hyphae were observed during mating. In vitro assays of stress responses revealed that fbp1 mutants are hypersensitive to SDS, but not calcofluor white (CFW) or Congo red, indicating that Fbp1 may regulate cell membrane integrity. Fbp1 physically interacts with Skp1 homologues in both Saccharomyces cerevisiae and C. neoformans via its F-box domain, suggesting it may function as part of an SCF (Skp1, Cullins, F-box proteins) E3 ligase. Overall, our study revealed that the F-box protein Fbp1 is essential for fungal sporulation and virulence in C. neoformans, which likely represents a conserved novel virulence control mechanism that involves the SCF E3 ubiquitin ligase-mediated proteolysis pathway.
The ubiquitin-proteasome system is one of the major protein turnover mechanisms that plays important roles in the regulation of a variety of cellular functions. It is composed of E1 (ubiquitin-activating enzyme), E2 (ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme), and E3 ubiquitin ligases that transfer ubiquitin to the substrates that are subjected to degradation in the 26S proteasome. The Skp1, Cullin, F-box protein (SCF) E3 ligases are the largest E3 gene family, in which the F-box protein is the key component to determine substrate specificity. Although the SCF E3 ligase and its F-box proteins have been extensively studied in the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, only limited studies have been reported on the role of F-box proteins in other fungi. Recently, a number of studies revealed that F-box proteins are required for fungal pathogenicity. In this communication, we review the current understanding of F-box proteins in pathogenic fungi.
Cryptococcus neoformans; E3 ligase; F-box; Fungi; Virulence
Cryptococcus neoformans is an AIDS-associated human fungal pathogen and the most common cause of fungal meningitis, with a mortality rate over 40% in AIDS patients. Significant advances have been achieved in understanding its disease mechanisms. Yet the underlying mechanism of a high frequency of cryptococcal meningitis remains unclear. The existence of high inositol concentrations in brain and our earlier discovery of a large inositol transporter (ITR) gene family in C. neoformans led us to investigate the potential role of inositol in Cryptococcus-host interactions. In this study, we focus on functional analyses of two major ITR genes to understand their role in virulence of C. neoformans. Our results show that ITR1A and ITR3C are the only two ITR genes among 10 candidates that can complement the growth defect of a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain lacking inositol transporters. Both S. cerevisiae strains heterologously expressing ITR1A or ITR3C showed high inositol uptake activity, an indication that they are major inositol transporters. Significantly, itr1a itr3c double mutants showed significant virulence attenuation in murine infection models. Mutating both ITR1A and ITR3C in an ino1 mutant background activates the expression of several remaining ITR candidates and does not show more severe virulence attenuation, suggesting that both inositol uptake and biosynthetic pathways are important for inositol acquisition. Overall, our study provides evidence that host inositol and fungal inositol transporters are important for Cryptococcus pathogenicity.
G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) represent the largest family of transmembrane receptors and are responsible for transducing extracellular signals into intracellular responses that involve complex intracellular-signaling networks. This review highlights recent research advances in fungal GPCRs, including classification, extracellular sensing, and G protein-signaling regulation. The involvement of GPCRs in pheromone and nutrient sensing has been studied extensively over the past decade. Following recent advances in fungal genome sequencing projects, a panoply of GPCR candidates has been revealed and some have been documented to play key roles sensing diverse extracellular signals, such as pheromones, sugars, amino acids, nitrogen sources, and even photons. Identification and deorphanization of additional putative GPCRs may require the development of new research tools. Here, we compare research on GPCRs in fungi with information derived from mammalian systems to provide a useful road map on how to better understand ligand–GPCR–G protein interactions in general. We also emphasize the utility of yeast as a discovery tool for systemic studies of GPCRs from other organisms.
G protein-coupled receptor; G protein; extracellular sensing; fungus
Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii are globally distributed human fungal pathogens and the leading causes of fungal meningitis. Recent studies reveal that myo-inositol is an important factor for fungal sexual reproduction. That C. neoformans can utilize myo-inositol as a sole carbon source and the existence of abundant inositol in the human central nervous system suggest that inositol is important for Cryptococcus development and virulence. In accord with this central importance of inositol, an expanded myo-inositol transporter (ITR) gene family has been identified in Cryptococcus. This gene family contains two phylogenetically distinct groups, with a total of 10 or more members in C. neoformans and at least six members in the sibling species C. gattii. These inositol transporter genes are differentially expressed under inositol-inducing conditions based on quantitative real-time PCR analyses. Expression of ITR genes in a Saccharomyces cerevisiae itr1 itr2 mutant lacking inositol transport can complement the slow-growth phenotype of this strain, confirming that ITR genes are bona fide inositol transporters. Gene mutagenesis studies reveal that the Itr1 and Itr1A transporters are important for myo-inositol stimulation of mating and that functional redundancies among the myo-inositol transporters likely exist. Deletion of the inositol 1-phosphate synthase gene INO1 in an itr1 or itr1a mutant background compromised virulence in a murine inhalation model, indicating the importance of inositol sensing and acquisition for fungal infectivity. Our study provides a platform for further understanding the roles of inositol in fungal physiology and virulence.
Cryptococcus neoformans is an AIDS-associated human fungal pathogen that causes over 1 million cases of meningitis annually and is the leading cause of fungal meningitis in immunosuppressed patients. The initial cryptococcal infection is caused predominantly via inhalation of sexual spores or desiccated yeast cells from the environment. How this fungus completes its sexual cycle and produces infectious spores in nature and why it frequently infects the central nervous system to cause fatal meningitis are critical questions that remain to be understood. In this study, we demonstrate that inositol acquisition is important not only for fungal sexual reproduction but also for fungal virulence. We identified an expanded inositol transporter gene family that contains over 10 members, important for both fungal sexual reproduction and virulence. Our work contributes to our understanding of how fungi respond to the environmental inositol availability and its impact on sexual reproduction and virulence.
Cryptococcus neoformans is a human fungal pathogen that undergoes a dimorphic transition from a unicellular yeast to multicellular hyphae during opposite sex (mating) and unisexual reproduction (same-sex mating). Opposite- and same-sex mating are induced by similar environmental conditions and involve many shared components, including the conserved pheromone sensing Cpk1 MAPK signal transduction cascade that governs the dimorphic switch in C. neoformans. However, the homeodomain cell identity proteins Sxi1α/Sxi2a encoded by the mating type locus that are essential for completion of sexual reproduction following cell–cell fusion during opposite-sex mating are dispensable for same-sex mating. Therefore, identification of downstream targets of the Cpk1 MAPK pathway holds the key to understanding molecular mechanisms governing the two distinct developmental fates. Thus far, homology-based approaches failed to identify downstream transcription factors which may therefore be species-specific. Here, we applied insertional mutagenesis via Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and transcription analysis using whole genome microarrays to identify factors involved in C. neoformans differentiation. Two transcription factors, Mat2 and Znf2, were identified as key regulators of hyphal growth during same- and opposite-sex mating. Mat2 is an HMG domain factor, and Znf2 is a zinc finger protein; neither is encoded by the mating type locus. Genetic, phenotypic, and transcriptional analyses of Mat2 and Znf2 provide evidence that Mat2 is a downstream transcription factor of the Cpk1 MAPK pathway whereas Znf2 functions as a more terminal hyphal morphogenesis determinant. Although the components of the MAPK pathway including Mat2 are not required for virulence in animal models, Znf2, as a hyphal morphology determinant, is a negative regulator of virulence. Further characterization of these elements and their target circuits will reveal genes controlling biological processes central to fungal development and virulence.
Although sexual reproduction typically involves partners of opposite mating type (sexuality), sex can occur with just one mating type and even with single individuals (parthenogenesis, homothallism). For example, Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungal pathogen that causes cryptococcal meningitis, can undergo opposite-sex mating and same-sex mating. The ability to undergo bisexual and unisexual mating provides this fungus a unique opportunity to maintain its ability to undergo sexual reproduction in largely unisexual natural populations (α). However, the molecular mechanisms underlying these two sexual reproduction processes are unclear. By random mutagenesis and gene expression profiling, we have identified two key transcription factors, Mat2 and Znf2, that operate cellular circuits orchestrating opposite- and same-sex mating in C. neoformans. The findings presented here provide a foundation to further elucidate the circuits evoking two different modes of sexual reproduction and to investigate the relationship between morphological differentiation and virulence in this ubiquitous pathogen. Recent studies suggest that unisexual mating might occur in several major human pathogenic fungi, and thus knowledge about the molecular mechanisms controlling the two sexual reproduction modes in C. neoformans may also provide insights on the evolution of bifurcate mating systems in other organisms.
Communication between cells and their environments is often mediated by G protein-coupled receptors and cognate G proteins. In fungi, one such signaling cascade is the mating pathway triggered by pheromone/pheromone receptor recognition. Unlike Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which expresses two Gα subunits, most filamentous ascomycetes and basidiomycetes have three Gα subunits. Previous studies have defined the Gα subunit acting upstream of the cAMP-protein kinase A pathway, but it has been unclear which Gα subunit is coupled to the pheromone receptor and response pathway. Here we report that in the pathogenic basidiomycetous yeast Cryptococcus neoformans, two Gα subunits (Gpa2, Gpa3) sense pheromone and govern mating. gpa2 gpa3 double mutants, but neither gpa2 nor gpa3 single mutants, are sterile in bilateral crosses. By contrast, deletion of GPA3 (but not GPA2) constitutively activates pheromone response and filamentation. Expression of GPA2 and GPA3 is differentially regulated: GPA3 expression is induced by nutrient-limitation, whereas GPA2 is induced during mating. Based on the phenotype of dominant active alleles, Gpa2 and Gpa3 signal in opposition: Gpa2 promotes mating, whereas Gpa3 inhibits. The incorporation of an additional Gα into the regulatory circuit enabled increased signaling complexity and facilitated cell fate decisions involving choice between yeast growth and filamentous asexual/sexual development.
The Gα protein Gpa1 governs the cAMP-PKA signaling pathway and plays a central role in virulence and differentiation in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, but the signals and receptors that trigger this pathway were unknown. We identified seven putative proteins that share identity with known G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). One protein, Gpr4, shares limited sequence identity with the Dictyostelium discoideum cAMP receptor cAR1 and the Aspergillus nidulans GPCR protein GprH and also shares structural similarity with the Saccharomyces cerevisiae receptor Gpr1. gpr4 mutants exhibited reduced capsule production and mating defects, similar to gpa1 mutants, and exogenous cAMP suppressed both gpr4 mutant phenotypes. Epistasis analysis provides further evidence that Gpr4 functions upstream of the Gα subunit Gpa1. Gpr4-Gpr4 homomeric interactions were observed in the yeast two-hybrid assay, and Gpr4 was shown to physically interact with Gpa1 in the split-ubiquitin system. A Gpr4::DsRED fusion protein was localized to the plasma membrane and methionine was found to trigger receptor internalization. The analysis of intracellular cAMP levels showed that gpr4 mutants still respond to glucose but not to certain amino acids, such as methionine. Amino acids might serve as ligands for Gpr4 and could contribute to engage the cAMP-PKA pathway. Activation of the cAMP-PKA pathway by glucose and amino acids represents a nutrient coincidence detection system shared in other pathogenic fungi.