Publications

Abstract (Expand)

Nitrogen is one of the key nutrients for microbial growth. During infection, pathogenic fungi like C. albicans need to acquire nitrogen from a broad range of different and changing sources inside the host. Detecting the available nitrogen sources and adjusting the expression of genes for their uptake and degradation is therefore crucial for survival and growth as well as for establishing an infection. Here, we analyzed the transcriptional response of C. albicans to nitrogen starvation and feeding with the infection-relevant nitrogen sources arginine and bovine serum albumin (BSA), representing amino acids and proteins, respectively. The response to nitrogen starvation was marked by an immediate repression of protein synthesis and an up-regulation of general amino acid permeases, as well as an up-regulation of autophagal processes in its later stages. Feeding with arginine led to a fast reduction in expression of general permeases for amino acids and to resumption of protein synthesis. The response to BSA feeding was generally slower, and was additionally characterized by an up-regulation of oligopeptide transporter genes. From time-series data, we inferred network interaction models for genes relevant in nitrogen detection and uptake. Each individual network was found to be largely specific for the experimental condition (starvation or feeding with arginine or BSA). In addition, we detected several novel connections between regulator and effector genes, with putative roles in nitrogen uptake. We conclude that C. albicans adopts a particular nitrogen response network, defined by sets of specific gene-gene connections for each environmental condition. All together, they form a grid of possible gene regulatory networks, increasing the transcriptional flexibility of C. albicans.

Authors: S. Ramachandra, Jörg Linde, Matthias Brock, Reinhard Guthke, Bernhard Hube, S. Brunke

Date Published: 20th Mar 2014

Journal: PLoS One

Abstract (Expand)

Fungi produce a multitude of low-molecular-mass compounds known as secondary metabolites, which have roles in a range of cellular processes such as transcription, development and intercellular communication. In addition, many of these compounds now have important applications, for instance, as antibiotics or immunosuppressants. Genome mining efforts indicate that the capability of fungi to produce secondary metabolites has been substantially underestimated because many of the fungal secondary metabolite biosynthesis gene clusters are silent under standard cultivation conditions. In this Review, I describe our current understanding of the regulatory elements that modulate the transcription of genes involved in secondary metabolism. I also discuss how an improved knowledge of these regulatory elements will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the physiological and ecological functions of these important compounds and will pave the way for a novel avenue to drug discovery through targeted activation of silent gene clusters.

Author: Axel A Brakhage

Date Published: 26th Nov 2012

Journal: Nat. Rev. Microbiol.

Abstract (Expand)

BACKGROUND: In System Biology, iterations of wet-lab experiments followed by modelling approaches and model-inspired experiments describe a cyclic workflow. This approach is especially useful for the inference of gene regulatory networks based on high-throughput gene expression data. Experiments can verify or falsify the predicted interactions allowing further refinement of the network model. Aspergillus fumigatus is a major human fungal pathogen. One important virulence trait is its ability to gain sufficient amounts of iron during infection process. Even though some regulatory interactions are known, we are still far from a complete understanding of the way iron homeostasis is regulated. RESULTS: In this study, we make use of a reverse engineering strategy to infer a regulatory network controlling iron homeostasis in A. fumigatus. The inference approach utilizes the temporal change in expression data after a change from iron depleted to iron replete conditions. The modelling strategy is based on a set of linear differential equations and offers the possibility to integrate known regulatory interactions as prior knowledge. Moreover, it makes use of important selection criteria, such as sparseness and robustness. By compiling a list of known regulatory interactions for iron homeostasis in A. fumigatus and softly integrating them during network inference, we are able to predict new interactions between transcription factors and target genes. The proposed activation of the gene expression of hapX by the transcriptional regulator SrbA constitutes a so far unknown way of regulating iron homeostasis based on the amount of metabolically available iron. This interaction has been verified by Northern blots in a recent experimental study. In order to improve the reliability of the predicted network, the results of this experimental study have been added to the set of prior knowledge. The final network includes three SrbA target genes. Based on motif searching within the regulatory regions of these genes, we identify potential DNA-binding sites for SrbA. Our wet-lab experiments demonstrate high-affinity binding capacity of SrbA to the promoters of hapX, hemA and srbA. CONCLUSIONS: This study presents an application of the typical Systems Biology circle and is based on cooperation between wet-lab experimentalists and in silico modellers. The results underline that using prior knowledge during network inference helps to predict biologically important interactions. Together with the experimental results, we indicate a novel iron homeostasis regulating system sensing the amount of metabolically available iron and identify the binding site of iron-related SrbA target genes. It will be of high interest to study whether these regulatory interactions are also important for close relatives of A. fumigatus and other pathogenic fungi, such as Candida albicans.

Authors: Jörg Linde, P. Hortschansky, E. Fazius, Axel Brakhage, Reinhard Guthke, H. Haas

Date Published: 19th Jan 2012

Journal: BMC Syst Biol

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