Invasive fungal infections pose a serious threat to immunocompromised people. Most of these infections are caused by either Candida or Aspergillus species, with A. fumigatus being the predominant causative agent of Invasive Aspergillosis. Affected people comprise mainly haematopoietic stem cell or solid organ transplant patients who receive either high-dose corticosteroids or immunosuppressants. These risk factors predispose to the development of Invasive Aspergillosis which is lethal in 20 to 80 % of the cases, largely due to insufficient efficacy of current antifungal therapy. Thus one major aim in current mycological research is the identification of new drug targets. The polysaccharide-based fungal cell wall is both essential to fungi and absent from human cells which makes it appear an attractive new target. Notably, many components of the A. fumigatus cell wall, including the polysaccharide galactomannan, glycoproteins, and glycolipids, contain the unusual sugar galactofuranose (Galf). In contrast to the other cell wall monosaccharides, Galf does not occur on human cells but is known as component of cell surface molecules of many pathogenic bacteria and protozoa, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Leishmania major. These molecules are often essential for virulence or viability of these organisms which suggested a possible role of Galf in the pathogenicity of A. fumigatus. To address the importance of Galf in A. fumigatus, the key biosynthesis gene glfA, encoding UDPgalactopyranose mutase (UGM), was deleted. In different experimental approaches it was demonstrated that the absence of the glfA gene led to a complete loss of Galf-containing glycans. Analysis of the DeltaglfA phenotype revealed growth and sporulation defects, reduced thermotolerance and an increased susceptibility to antifungal drugs. Electron Microscopy indicated a cell wall defect as a likely cause for the observed impairments. Furthermore, the virulence of the DeltaglfA mutant was found to be severely attenuated in a murine model of Invasive Aspergillosis. The second focus of this study was laid on further elucidation of the galactofuranosylation pathway in A. fumigatus. In eukaryotes, a UDP-Galf transporter is likely required to transport UDP-Galf from the cytosol into the organelles of the secretory pathway, but no such activity had been described. Sixteen candidate genes were identified in the A. fumigatus genome of which one, glfB, was found in close proximity to the glfA gene. In vitro transport assays revealed specificity of GlfB for UDP-Galf suggesting that glfB encoded indeed a UDP-Galf transporter. The influence of glfB on galactofuranosylation was determined by a DeltaglfB deletion mutant, which closely recapitulated the DeltaglfA phenotype and was likewise found to be completely devoid of Galf. It could be concluded that all galactofuranosylation processes in A. fumigatus occur in the secretory pathway, including the biosynthesis of the cell wall polysaccharide galactomannan whose subcellular origin was previously disputed. Thus in the course of this study the first UDP-Galf specific nucleotide sugar transporter was identified and its requirement for galactofuranosylation in A. fumigatus demonstrated. Moreover, it was shown that blocking the galactofuranosylation pathway impaired virulence of A. fumigatus which suggests the UDP-Galf biosynthesis enzyme UGM as a target for new antifungal drugs.
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Schmalhorst PS. Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. 2009:1-72.
Schmalhorst, P. S. (2009). Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover.
Schmalhorst, Philipp S. “Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus Fumigatus.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover, 2009.
P. S. Schmalhorst, “Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus,” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover, 2009.
Schmalhorst PS. 2009. Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover.
Schmalhorst, Philipp S. Biosynthesis of Galactofuranose Containing Glycans and Their Relevance for the Pathogenic Fungus Aspergillus Fumigatus. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover, 2009, pp. 1–72.
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