Publications

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The protein kinase Snf1, a member of the highly conserved AMP-activated protein kinase family, is a central regulator of metabolic adaptation. In the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans, Snf1 is considered to be essential, as previous attempts by different research groups to generate homozygous snf1Delta mutants were unsuccessful. We aimed to elucidate why Snf1 is required for viability in C. albicans by generating snf1Delta null mutants through forced, inducible gene deletion and observing the terminal phenotype before cell death. Unexpectedly, we found that snf1Delta mutants were viable and could grow, albeit very slowly, on rich media containing the preferred carbon source glucose. Growth was improved when the cells were incubated at 37 degrees C instead of 30 degrees C, and this phenotype enabled us to isolate homozygous snf1Delta mutants also by conventional, sequential deletion of both SNF1 alleles in a wild-type C. albicans strain. All snf1Delta mutants could grow slowly on glucose but were unable to utilize alternative carbon sources. Our results show that, under optimal conditions, C. albicans can live and grow without Snf1. Furthermore, they demonstrate that inducible gene deletion is a powerful method for assessing gene essentiality in C. albicans IMPORTANCE Essential genes are those that are indispensable for the viability and growth of an organism. Previous studies indicated that the protein kinase Snf1, a central regulator of metabolic adaptation, is essential in the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans, because no homozygous snf1 deletion mutants of C. albicans wild-type strains could be obtained by standard approaches. In order to investigate the lethal consequences of SNF1 deletion, we generated conditional mutants in which SNF1 could be deleted by forced, inducible excision from the genome. Unexpectedly, we found that snf1 null mutants were viable and could grow slowly under optimal conditions. The growth phenotypes of the snf1Delta mutants explain why such mutants were not recovered in previous attempts. Our study demonstrates that inducible gene deletion is a powerful method for assessing gene essentiality in C. albicans.

Authors: Austin Mottola, S. Schwanfelder, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 19th Aug 2020

Journal: mSphere

Abstract (Expand)

The capacity of Candida albicans to reversibly change its morphology between yeast and filamentous stages is crucial for its virulence. Formation of hyphae correlates with the upregulation of genes ALS3 and ECE1, which are involved in pathogenicity processes such as invasion, iron acquisition, and host cell damage. The global repressor Tup1 and its cofactor Nrg1 are considered to be the main antagonists of hyphal development in C. albicans However, our experiments revealed that Tup1, but not Nrg1, was required for full expression of ALS3 and ECE1 In contrast to NRG1, overexpression of TUP1 was found to inhibit neither filamentous growth nor transcription of ALS3 and ECE1 In addition, we identified the transcription factor Ahr1 as being required for full expression of both genes. A hyperactive version of Ahr1 bound directly to the promoters of ALS3 and ECE1 and induced their transcription even in the absence of environmental stimuli. This regulation worked even in the absence of the crucial hyphal growth regulators Cph1 and Efg1 but was dependent on the presence of Tup1. Overall, our results show that Ahr1 and Tup1 are key contributors in the complex regulation of virulence-associated genes in the different C. albicans morphologies.IMPORTANCE Candida albicans is a major human fungal pathogen and the leading cause of systemic Candida infections. In recent years, Als3 and Ece1 were identified as important factors for fungal virulence. Transcription of both corresponding genes is closely associated with hyphal growth. Here, we describe how Tup1, normally a global repressor of gene expression as well as of filamentation, and the transcription factor Ahr1 contribute to full expression of ALS3 and ECE1 in C. albicans hyphae. Both regulators are required for high mRNA amounts of the two genes to ensure functional relevant protein synthesis and localization. These observations identified a new aspect of regulation in the complex transcriptional control of virulence-associated genes in C. albicans.

Authors: S. Ruben, E. Garbe, Selene Mogavero, Daniela Albrecht-Eckardt, D. Hellwig, A. Hader, Thomas Krüger, K. Gerth, Ilse Jacobsen, O. Elshafee, S. Brunke, Kerstin Hünniger, Olaf Kniemeyer, Axel Brakhage, Joachim Morschhäuser, Bernhard Hube, Slavena Vylkova, Oliver Kurzai, R. Martin

Date Published: 28th Apr 2020

Journal: mBio

Abstract (Expand)

The heterotrimeric protein kinase SNF1 plays a key role in the metabolic adaptation of the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans It consists of the essential catalytic alpha-subunit Snf1, the gamma-subunit Snf4, and one of the two beta-subunits Kis1 and Kis2. Snf4 is required to release the N-terminal catalytic domain of Snf1 from autoinhibition by the C-terminal regulatory domain, and snf4Delta mutants cannot grow on carbon sources other than glucose. In a screen for suppressor mutations that restore growth of a snf4Delta mutant on alternative carbon sources, we isolated a mutant in which six amino acids between the N-terminal kinase domain and the C-terminal regulatory domain of Snf1 were deleted. The deletion was caused by an intragenic recombination event between two 8-bp direct repeats flanking six intervening codons. In contrast to truncated forms of Snf1 that contain only the kinase domain, the Snf4-independent Snf1(Delta311 - 316) was fully functional and could replace wild-type Snf1 for normal growth, because it retained the ability to interact with the Kis1 and Kis2 beta-subunits via its C-terminal domain. Indeed, the Snf4-independent Snf1(Delta311 - 316) still required the beta-subunits of the SNF1 complex to perform its functions and did not rescue the growth defects of kis1Delta mutants. Our results demonstrate that a preprogrammed in-frame deletion event within the SNF1 coding region can generate a mutated form of this essential kinase which abolishes autoinhibition and thereby overcomes growth deficiencies caused by a defect in the gamma-subunit Snf4.IMPORTANCE Genomic alterations, including different types of recombination events, facilitate the generation of genetically altered variants and enable the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans to adapt to stressful conditions encountered in its human host. Here, we show that a specific recombination event between two 8-bp direct repeats within the coding sequence of the SNF1 gene results in the deletion of six amino acids between the N-terminal kinase domain and the C-terminal regulatory domain and relieves this essential kinase from autoinhibition. This preprogrammed deletion allowed C. albicans to overcome growth defects caused by the absence of the regulatory subunit Snf4 and represents a built-in mechanism for the generation of a Snf4-independent Snf1 kinase.

Authors: Austin Mottola, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 19th Jun 2019

Journal: mSphere

Abstract (Expand)

The clonal population structure of Candida albicans suggests that (para)sexual recombination does not play an important role in the lifestyle of this opportunistic fungal pathogen, an assumption that is strengthened by the fact that most C. albicans strains are heterozygous at the mating type locus (MTL) and therefore mating-incompetent. On the other hand, mating might occur within clonal populations and allow the combination of advantageous traits that were acquired by individual cells to adapt to adverse conditions. We have investigated if parasexual recombination may be involved in the evolution of highly drug-resistant strains exhibiting multiple resistance mechanisms against fluconazole, an antifungal drug that is commonly used to treat infections by C. albicans Growth of strains that were heterozygous for MTL and different fluconazole resistance mutations in the presence of the drug resulted in the emergence of derivatives that had become homozygous for the mutated allele and the mating type locus and exhibited increased drug resistance. When MTL a/a and MTLalpha/alpha cells of these strains were mixed in all possible combinations, we could isolate mating products containing the genetic material from both parents. The initial mating products did not exhibit higher drug resistance than their parental strains, but further propagation under selective pressure resulted in the loss of the wild-type alleles and increased fluconazole resistance. Therefore, fluconazole treatment not only selects for resistance mutations but also promotes genomic alterations that confer mating competence, which allows cells in an originally clonal population to exchange individually acquired resistance mechanisms and generate highly drug-resistant progeny.IMPORTANCE Sexual reproduction is an important mechanism in the evolution of species, since it allows the combination of advantageous traits of individual members in a population. The pathogenic yeast Candida albicans is a diploid organism that normally propagates in a clonal fashion, because heterozygosity at the mating type locus (MTL) inhibits mating between cells. Here we show that C. albicans cells that have acquired drug resistance mutations during treatment with the commonly used antifungal agent fluconazole rapidly develop further increased resistance by genome rearrangements that result in simultaneous loss of heterozygosity for the mutated allele and the mating type locus. This enables the drug-resistant cells of a population to switch to the mating-competent opaque morphology and mate with each other to combine different individually acquired resistance mechanisms. The tetraploid mating products reassort their merged genomes and, under selective pressure by the drug, generate highly resistant progeny that have retained the advantageous mutated alleles. Parasexual propagation, promoted by stress-induced genome rearrangements that result in the acquisition of mating competence in cells with adaptive mutations, may therefore be an important mechanism in the evolution of C. albicans populations.

Authors: C. Popp, Bernardo Ramirez-Zavala, S. Schwanfelder, I. Kruger, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 5th Feb 2019

Journal: mBio

Abstract (Expand)

Gain-of-function mutations in the zinc cluster transcription factors Mrr1, Tac1, and Upc2, which result in constitutive overexpression of their target genes, are a frequent cause of fluconazole resistance in the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans In this study, we show that an activated form of another zinc cluster transcription factor, Stb5, confers resistance to the natural compound beauvericin via the overexpression of YOR1, encoding an efflux pump of the ATP-binding cassette transporter superfamily. Beauvericin was recently shown to potentiate the activity of azole drugs against C. albicans Although Yor1 did not contribute to fluconazole resistance when C. albicans cells were treated with the drug alone, Stb5-mediated YOR1 overexpression diminished the synergistic effect of the fluconazole-beauvericin combination, thereby enhancing fluconazole resistance in beauvericin-treated C. albicans cells. Stb5-mediated YOR1 overexpression also suppressed the inhibition of hyphal growth, an important virulence trait of C. albicans, by beauvericin. Therefore, activating mutations in Stb5, which result in constitutive YOR1 overexpression, may enable C. albicans to acquire resistance to beauvericin and thereby overcome both the sensitization to azole drugs and the inhibition of morphogenesis caused by this compound.

Authors: Bernardo Ramirez-Zavala, H. Manz, F. Englert, P. D. Rogers, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 27th Sep 2018

Journal: Antimicrob Agents Chemother

Abstract (Expand)

Life-threatening systemic infections often occur due to the translocation of pathogens across the gut barrier and into the bloodstream. While the microbial and host mechanisms permitting bacterial gut translocation are well characterized, these mechanisms are still unclear for fungal pathogens such as Candida albicans, a leading cause of nosocomial fungal bloodstream infections. In this study, we dissected the cellular mechanisms of translocation of C. albicans across intestinal epithelia in vitro and identified fungal genes associated with this process. We show that fungal translocation is a dynamic process initiated by invasion and followed by cellular damage and loss of epithelial integrity. A screen of >2,000 C. albicans deletion mutants identified genes required for cellular damage of and translocation across enterocytes. Correlation analysis suggests that hypha formation, barrier damage above a minimum threshold level, and a decreased epithelial integrity are required for efficient fungal translocation. Translocation occurs predominantly via a transcellular route, which is associated with fungus-induced necrotic epithelial damage, but not apoptotic cell death. The cytolytic peptide toxin of C. albicans, candidalysin, was found to be essential for damage of enterocytes and was a key factor in subsequent fungal translocation, suggesting that transcellular translocation of C. albicans through intestinal layers is mediated by candidalysin. However, fungal invasion and low-level translocation can also occur via non-transcellular routes in a candidalysin-independent manner. This is the first study showing translocation of a human-pathogenic fungus across the intestinal barrier being mediated by a peptide toxin.IMPORTANCECandida albicans, usually a harmless fungus colonizing human mucosae, can cause lethal bloodstream infections when it manages to translocate across the intestinal epithelium. This can result from antibiotic treatment, immune dysfunction, or intestinal damage (e.g., during surgery). However, fungal processes may also contribute. In this study, we investigated the translocation process of C. albicans using in vitro cell culture models. Translocation occurs as a stepwise process starting with invasion, followed by epithelial damage and loss of epithelial integrity. The ability to secrete candidalysin, a peptide toxin deriving from the hyphal protein Ece1, is key: C. albicans hyphae, secreting candidalysin, take advantage of a necrotic weakened epithelium to translocate through the intestinal layer.

Authors: Stefanie Allert, Toni Förster, Carl-Magnus Svensson, J. P. Richardson, T. Pawlik, B. Hebecker, Sven Rudolphi, M. Juraschitz, M. Schaller, M. Blagojevic, Joachim Morschhäuser, Marc Thilo Figge, Ilse Jacobsen, J. R. Naglik, Lydia Kasper, Selene Mogavero, Bernhard Hube

Date Published: 5th Jun 2018

Journal: mBio

Abstract (Expand)

The opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans frequently produces genetically altered variants to adapt to environmental changes and new host niches in the course of its life-long association with the human host. Gain-of-function mutations in zinc cluster transcription factors, which result in the constitutive upregulation of their target genes, are a common cause of acquired resistance to the widely used antifungal drug fluconazole, especially during long-term therapy of oropharyngeal candidiasis. In this study, we investigated if C. albicans also can develop resistance to the antimicrobial peptide histatin 5, which is secreted in the saliva of humans to protect the oral mucosa from pathogenic microbes. As histatin 5 has been shown to be transported out of C. albicans cells by the Flu1 efflux pump, we screened a library of C. albicans strains that contain artificially activated forms of all zinc cluster transcription factors of this fungus for increased FLU1 expression. We found that a hyperactive Mrr1, which confers fluconazole resistance by upregulating the multidrug efflux pump MDR1 and other genes, also causes FLU1 overexpression. Similarly to the artificially activated Mrr1, naturally occurring gain-of-function mutations in this transcription factor also caused FLU1 upregulation and increased histatin 5 resistance. Surprisingly, however, Mrr1-mediated histatin 5 resistance was mainly caused by the upregulation of MDR1 instead of FLU1, revealing a previously unrecognized function of the Mdr1 efflux pump. Fluconazole-resistant clinical C. albicans isolates with different Mrr1 gain-of-function mutations were less efficiently killed by histatin 5, and this phenotype was reverted when MRR1 was deleted. Therefore, antimycotic therapy can promote the evolution of strains that, as a consequence of drug resistance mutations, simultaneously have acquired increased resistance against an innate host defense mechanism and are thereby better adapted to certain host niches.

Authors: Irene Hampe, J. Friedman, M. Edgerton, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 28th Sep 2017

Journal: PLoS Pathog

Abstract (Expand)

The metabolic flexibility of the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans is important for colonisation and infection of different host niches. Complex regulatory networks, in which protein kinases play central roles, link metabolism and other virulence-associated traits, such as filamentous growth and stress resistance, and thereby control commensalism and pathogenicity. By screening a protein kinase deletion mutant library that was generated in the present work using an improved SAT1 flipper cassette, we found that the previously uncharacterised kinase Sak1 is a key upstream activator of the protein kinase Snf1, a highly conserved regulator of nutrient stress responses that is essential for viability in C. albicans. The sak1Delta mutants failed to grow on many alternative carbon sources and were hypersensitive to cell wall/membrane stress. These phenotypes were mirrored in mutants lacking other subunits of the SNF1 complex and partially compensated by a hyperactive form of Snf1. Transcriptional profiling of sak1Delta mutants showed that Sak1 ensures basal expression of glyoxylate cycle and gluconeogenesis genes even in glucose-rich media and thereby contributes to the metabolic plasticity of C. albicans. In a mouse model of gastrointestinal colonisation, sak1Delta mutants were rapidly outcompeted by wild-type cells, demonstrating that Sak1 is essential for the in vivo fitness of C. albicans.

Authors: Bernardo Ramirez-Zavala, Austin Mottola, J. Haubenreisser, S. Schneider, Stefanie Allert, S. Brunke, K. Ohlsen, Bernhard Hube, Joachim Morschhäuser

Date Published: 25th Mar 2017

Journal: Mol Microbiol

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