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Title: Heterokaryon incompatibility in Aspergillus fumigatus
Author: Weaver, Sean
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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Invasive aspergillosis (IA) is associated with high mortality rates and can be difficult and expensive to treat with current drugs. The drugs used to treat IA are also associated with undesirable, and often severe, side-effects of the patient. The main causative agent of this disease is the opportunistic pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. This study identifies genes which play a role in a fungal-specific type of programmed cell death (PCD) in A. fumigatus, known as heterokaryon incompatibility. The development of drugs specifically targeting the products of these genes could lead to fewer side-effects than those arising from currently available anti-fungal drugs. The drug amphotericin B is currently used to treat IA and has been shown to induce an apoptotic-like phenotype in A. fumigatus; however, the sterols targeted are present in both fungal and mammalian cell membranes. HI is a fungal-specific self/non-self recognition system that results in rapid compartmentalisation and cell death of hyphal fusion sites if the two fusing fungi are not genetically compatible. The HI system could be exploited as a novel drug target against invasive fungal pathogens through targeting a component of the molecular pathway to induce cell death. In contrast to current drugs, novel drugs could target HI components to induce PCD without affecting non-desirable targets that cause side-effects. The non-self recognition systems used by Neurospora crassa, Aspergillus Nidulans and Podospora anserina are the well characterised, and they each differ significantly in their modes of action. BLAST searches found 30 homologues of HI genes from other the systems of characterised species in A. fumigatus, with 8 containing the fungal-specific het domain. The first assay to determine whether disruption of het genes could affect HI was to observe the barrage phenotype between incompatible A. fumigatus individuals. However, there was no barrage visible as the leading edge of colonies stopped growing when in close proximity to another colony. Instead, nitrate non-utilising (Nit) A. fumigatus mutant strains were generated using chlorate and pair-wise crosses of 46 environmentally and clinically isolates on nitrate-containing media resulted in the formation of 16 viable heterokaryons. All of the heterokaryons fell into exclusive compatibility groups where no intergroup crossing was possible. Homologous recombination was used to disrupt five of the identified het domain genes with gene replacement cassettes, generated through fusion-PCR, in an akuB(KU80Delta) A. fumigatus strain. The mutant strains displayed both detrimental growth on standard agar growth media and reduced ability to recognise non-self strains. Full and partial heterokaryons were formed during intergroup pair-wise compatibility crosses using the mutants and strains that the akuB(KU80Delta) parent strain was previously incompatible with. This was followed with a non-bias approach of gene disruption using the Fusarium oxysporum impala160 transposable element in a Nit A. fumigatus mutant. Inducing transposon mutagenesis through exposure to low temperature generated a mutant library of spores in which the transposon had disrupted different open reading frames at different locations across the A. fumigatus genome. The mutant spore library was also screened for the ability to form viable intergroup heterokaryons with strains belonging to different compatibility groups. PCR recovery and DNA sequencing was able to identify the locus of impala160 in three isolates able to form viable heterokaryons. The sequences revealed the transposable element had disrupted the same gene, AFUA_2G05070, in each of the three isolates. This gene encodes an uncharacterised conserved hypothetical protein which may be a critical component for non-self recognition in A. fumigatus HI, and a potential target for novel anti-fungal drugs to induce PCD.
Supervisor: Robson, Geoffrey ; Bowyer, Paul Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Apoptosis ; fumigatus ; Aspergillus ; Compatibility ; Heterokaryon ; Incompatibility