Invasive aspergillosis is predominantly caused by Aspergillus fumigatus, and adaptations to stresses experienced within the human host are a prerequisite for the survival and virulence strategies of the pathogen. The central signal transduction pathway operating during hyperosmotic stress is the high osmolarity glycerol mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade. A. fumigatus MpkC and SakA, orthologues of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Hog1p, constitute the primary regulator of the hyperosmotic stress response. We compared A. fumigatus wild-type transcriptional response to osmotic stress with the ΔmpkC, ΔsakA, and ΔmpkC ΔsakA strains. Our results strongly indicate that MpkC and SakA have independent and collaborative functions during the transcriptional response to transient osmotic stress. We have identified and characterized null mutants for four A. fumigatus basic leucine zipper proteins transcription factors. The atfA and atfB have comparable expression levels with the wild-type in ΔmpkC but are repressed in ΔsakA and ΔmpkC ΔsakA post-osmotic stress. The atfC and atfD have reduced expression levels in all mutants post-osmotic stress. The atfA-D null mutants displayed several phenotypes related to osmotic, oxidative, and cell wall stresses. The ΔatfA and ΔatfB were shown to be avirulent and to have attenuated virulence, respectively, in both Galleria mellonella and a neutropenic murine model of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis.
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