Proper regulation of metabolism is essential to maximizing fitness of organisms in their chosen environmental niche. Nitrogen metabolite repression is an example of a regulatory mechanism in fungi that enables preferential utilization of easily assimilated nitrogen sources, such as ammonium, to conserve resources. Here we provide genetic, transcriptional, and phenotypic evidence of nitrogen metabolite repression in the human pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. In addition to loss of transcriptional activation of catabolic enzyme-encoding genes of the uric acid and proline assimilation pathways in the presence of ammonium, nitrogen metabolite repression also regulates the production of the virulence determinants capsule and melanin. Since GATA transcription factors are known to play a key role in nitrogen metabolite repression, bioinformatic analyses of the C. neoformans genome were undertaken and seven predicted GATA-type genes were identified. A screen of these deletion mutants revealed GAT1, encoding the only global transcription factor essential for utilization of a wide range of nitrogen sources, including uric acid, urea, and creatinine—three predominant nitrogen constituents found in the C. neoformans ecological niche. In addition to its evolutionarily conserved role in mediating nitrogen metabolite repression and controlling the expression of catabolic enzyme and permease-encoding genes, Gat1 also negatively regulates virulence traits, including infectious basidiospore production, melanin formation, and growth at high body temperature (39°–40°). Conversely, Gat1 positively regulates capsule production. A murine inhalation model of cryptococcosis revealed that the gat1Δ mutant is slightly more virulent than wild type, indicating that Gat1 plays a complex regulatory role during infection.

  • Received March 8, 2011.
  • Accepted March 22, 2011.
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