Global analysis of genetic circuitry and adaptive mechanisms enabling resistance to the azole antifungal drugs

Harley O’Connor Mount, Nicole M. Revie, Robert T. Todd, Kaitlin Anstett, Cathy Collins, Michael Costanzo, Charles Boone, Nicole Robbins, Anna Selmecki, Leah E. Cowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Invasive fungal infections caused by the pathogen Candida albicans have transitioned from a rare curiosity to a major cause of human mortality. This is in part due to the emergence of resistance to the limited number of antifungals available to treat fungal infections. Azoles function by targeting the biosynthesis of ergosterol, a key component of the fungal cell membrane. Loss-of-function mutations in the ergosterol biosynthetic gene ERG3 mitigate azole toxicity and enable resistance that depends upon fungal stress responses. Here, we performed a genome-wide synthetic genetic array screen in Saccharomyces cerevisiae to map ERG3 genetic interactors and uncover novel circuitry important for azole resistance. We identified nine genes that enabled erg3-mediated azole resistance in the model yeast and found that only two of these genes had a conserved impact on resistance in C. albicans. Further, we screened a C. albicans homozygous deletion mutant library and identified 13 genes for which deletion enhances azole susceptibility. Two of the genes, RGD1 and PEP8, were also important for azole resistance acquired by diverse mechanisms. We discovered that loss of function of retrograde transport protein Pep8 overwhelms the functional capacity of the stress response regulator calcineurin, thereby abrogating azole resistance. To identify the mechanism through which the GTPase activator protein Rgd1 enables azole resistance, we selected for mutations that restore resistance in strains lacking Rgd1. Whole genome sequencing uncovered parallel adaptive mechanisms involving amplification of both chromosome 7 and a large segment of chromosome 3. Overexpression of a transporter gene on the right portion of chromosome 3, NPR2, was sufficient to enable azole resistance in the absence of Rgd1. Thus, we establish a novel mechanism of adaptation to drug-induced stress, define genetic circuitry underpinning azole resistance, and illustrate divergence in resistance circuitry over evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1007319
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
HOM is supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research CGS-M award and NMR is supported by an Ontario Graduate Scholarship Award. AS is supported by LB692-Nebraska Tobacco Settlement Biomedical Research Development New Initiative Grant and Nebraska EPSCoR First Award. LEC is supported by a National Institutes of Health NIAID R01 (1R01AI127375-01). CB is supported by a National Institutes of Health Grant (R01HG005853) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research Foundation Grant (FDN-143264). LEC is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grants (MOP-86452 and MOP-119520) and Foundation Grant (FDN-154288), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) of Canada Discovery Grants (06261 and 462167), and an NSERC E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship (477598). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank Cowen lab members for helpful discussions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Mount et al.


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