Pleiotropy and epistasis within and between signaling pathways defines the genetic architecture of fungal virulence.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Cryptococcal disease is estimated to affect nearly a quarter of a million people annually. Environmental isolates of Cryptococcus deneoformans, which make up 15 to 30% of clinical infections in temperate climates such as Europe, vary in their pathogenicity, ranging from benign to hyper-virulent. Key traits that contribute to virulence, such as the production of the pigment melanin, an extracellular polysaccharide capsule, and the ability to grow at human body temperature have been identified, yet little is known about the genetic basis of variation in such traits. Here we investigate the genetic basis of melanization, capsule size, thermal tolerance, oxidative stress resistance, and antifungal drug sensitivity using quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping in progeny derived from a cross between two divergent C. deneoformans strains. Using a "function-valued" QTL analysis framework that exploits both time-series information and growth differences across multiple environments, we identified QTL for each of these virulence traits and drug susceptibility. For three QTL we identified the underlying genes and nucleotide differences that govern variation in virulence traits. One of these genes, RIC8, which encodes a regulator of cAMP-PKA signaling, contributes to variation in four virulence traits: melanization, capsule size, thermal tolerance, and resistance to oxidative stress. Two major effect QTL for amphotericin B resistance map to the genes SSK1 and SSK2, which encode key components of the HOG pathway, a fungal-specific signal transduction network that orchestrates cellular responses to osmotic and other stresses. We also discovered complex epistatic interactions within and between genes in the HOG and cAMP-PKA pathways that regulate antifungal drug resistance and resistance to oxidative stress. Our findings advance the understanding of virulence traits among diverse lineages of Cryptococcus, and highlight the role of genetic variation in key stress-responsive signaling pathways as a major contributor to phenotypic variation.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Roth, C; Murray, D; Scott, A; Fu, C; Averette, AF; Sun, S; Heitman, J; Magwene, PM

Published Date

  • January 2021

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 17 / 1

Start / End Page

  • e1009313 -

PubMed ID

  • 33493169

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC7861560

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1553-7404

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009313


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States