Discovery of a phenotypic switch regulating sexual mating in the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida tropicalis.
Porman AM, Alby K, Hirakawa MP, Bennett RJ
PNAS (2011) 108: 21158-21163.
Category: Candida, gene expression, yeast mating ¤ Added: Jan 03, 2012 ¤ Rating: ◊◊
Sexual reproduction can promote genetic diversity in eukaryotes, and yet many pathogenic fungi have been labeled as obligate asexual species. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that cryptic sexual programs may exist in some species, and that efficient mating requires the necessary developmental switch to be triggered. In this study we investigate Candida tropicalis, an important human fungal pathogen that has been reported to be asexual. Significantly, we demonstrate that C. tropicalis uses a phenotypic switch to regulate a cryptic program of sexual mating. Thus, diploid a and α cells must undergo a developmental transition to the mating-competent form, and only then does efficient cell-cell conjugation take place resulting in the formation of stable a/α tetraploids. We show that both the phenotypic switch and sexual mating depend on the conserved transcriptional regulator Wor1, which is regulated by temperature in other fungal species. In contrast, C. tropicalis mating occurs efficiently at both 25 °C and 37 °C, suggesting that it could occur in the mammalian host and have direct consequences for the outcome of an infection. Transcriptional profiling further reveals that ≈400 genes are differentially expressed between the two phenotypic states, including the regulatory factor Wor1. Taken together, our results demonstrate that C. tropicalis has a unique sexual program, and that entry to this program is controlled via a Wor1-mediated, metastable switch. These observations have direct implications for the regulation and evolution of cryptic sexual programs in related fungal pathogens.