Blocking Polyphosphate Mobilization Inhibits Pho4 Activation and Virulence in the Pathogen Candida albicans

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The ability of pathogenic fungi to obtain essential nutrients from the host is vital for virulence. In Candida albicans, acquisition of the macronutrient phosphate is regulated by the Pho4 transcription factor and is important for both virulence and resistance to host-encountered stresses. All cells store phosphate in the form of polyphosphate (polyP), a ubiquitous polymer comprising tens to hundreds of phosphate residues. Release of phosphate from polyP is one of the first responses evoked in response to phosphate starvation, and here, we sought to explore the importance of polyP mobilization in the pathobiology of C. albicans. We found that two polyphosphatases, Ppn1 and Ppx1, function redundantly to release phosphate from polyP in C. albicans. Strikingly, we reveal that blocking polyP mobilization prevents the activation of the Pho4 transcription factor: following Pi starvation, Pho4 fails to accumulate in the nucleus and induce Pi acquisition genes in ppn1D ppx1D cells. Consequently, ppn1D ppx1D cells display impaired resistance to the same range of stresses that require Pho4 for survival. In addition, cells lacking both polyphosphatases are exquisitely sensitive to DNA replication stress, indicating that polyP mobilization is needed to support the phosphate-demanding process of DNA replication. Blocking polyP mobilization also results in significant morphological defects, as ppn1D ppx1D cells form large pseudohypha-like cells that are resistant to serum-induced hypha formation. Thus, polyP mobilization impacts key processes important for the pathobiology of C. albicans, and consistent with this, we found that blocking this process attenuates the virulence of this important human fungal pathogen. IMPORTANCE Acquisition of the essential macronutrient phosphate is important for the virulence of Candida albicans, a major human fungal pathogen. All cells store phosphate as polyphosphate (polyP), which is rapidly mobilized when phosphate is limiting. Here, we identified the major phosphatases involved in releasing phosphate from polyP in C. albicans. By blocking this process, we found that polyP mobilization impacts many process that contribute to C. albicans pathogenesis. Notably, we found that blocking polyP mobilization inhibits activation of the Pho4 transcription factor, the master regulator of phosphate acquisition. In addition, cell cycle progression, stress resistance, morphogenetic switching, and virulence are all impaired in cells that cannot mobilize polyP. This study therefore provides new insight into the importance of polyP mobilization in promoting the virulence of C. albicans. As phosphate homeostasis strategies differ between fungal pathogen and host, this offers promise for the future development of antifungals.




Ahmed, Y., Ikeh, M. A. C., MacCallum, D. M., Day, A. M., Waldron, K., & Quinn, J. (2022). Blocking Polyphosphate Mobilization Inhibits Pho4 Activation and Virulence in the Pathogen Candida albicans. MBio, 13(3).

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