Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen that is responsible for life-threatening disease, particularly in the context of compromised immunity. This organism makes extensive use of mannose in constructing its cell wall, glycoproteins, and glycolipids. Mannose also comprises up to two-thirds of the main cryptococcal virulence factor, a polysaccharide capsule that surrounds the cell. The glycosyltransfer reactions that generate cellular carbohydrate structures usually require activated donors such as nucleotide sugars. GDP-mannose, the mannose donor, is produced in the cytosol by the sequential actions of phosphomannose isomerase, phosphomannomutase, and GDP-mannose pyrophosphorylase. However, most mannose-containing glycoconjugates are synthesized within intracellular organelles. This topological separation necessitates a specific transport mechanism to move this key precursor across biological membranes to the appropriate site for biosynthetic reactions. We have discovered two GDP-mannose transporters in C. neoformans, in contrast to the single such protein reported previously for other fungi. Biochemical studies of each protein expressed in Saccharomyces cerevisiae show that both are functional, with similar kinetics and substrate specificities. Microarray experiments indicate that the two proteins Gmt1 and Gmt2 are transcribed with distinct patterns of expression in response to variations in growth conditions. Additionally, deletion of the GMT1 gene yields cells with small capsules and a defect in capsule induction, while deletion of GMT2 does not alter the capsule. We suggest that C. neoformans produces two GDP-mannose transporters to satisfy its enormous need for mannose utilization in glycan synthesis. Furthermore, we propose that the two proteins have distinct biological roles. This is supported by the different expression patterns of GMT1 and GMT2 in response to environmental stimuli and the dissimilar phenotypes that result when each gene is deleted.
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