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Molecular genetics ofAspergillus pathogenicity


Aspergillus fumigatus is the most frequent cause of Invasive Pulmonary Aspergillosis (IPA), a life-threatening disease of immunosuppressed patients. In addition to a number of general physiological attributes of this fungus, it has been suggested that extracellular elastase and toxins might facilitate its growth in lung tissue. We have investigated the roles of two extracellular proteins, an alkaline protease with elastase activity (AFAlp), and the ribotoxin restrictocin in murine models of IPA. Gene disruption was used to create stable null mutant strains of the fungus lacking one or other protein, and their virulence and histopathological features were compared with an isogenic parental strain in steroid-treated and neutropenic mice. We have been unable to demonstrate any significant differences between the three strains, which shows that, considered independently, these proteins are not important virulence determinants. We are also interested in identifying fungal-specific gene products involved in general metabolism and which are required for growth in the lung, because these could represent new targets for antifungal drugs. For this work a model of murine IPA involvingAspergillus nidulans was established, to take advantage of the many well characterised mutations affecting metabolic pathways. Pathogenicity tests with strains carrying one of two auxotrophic mutations,lysA2 andpabaA1, have shown while lysine biosynthesis is not essential for the fungus to cause pulmonary disease, biosynthesis ofp-aminobenzoic acid is essential. We are now in the process of cloning theA. fumigatus pabaA homologue to determine its function and whether this gene is required for growth of the clinically important species in the lung.

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Holden, D.W., Tang, C.M. & Smith, J.M. Molecular genetics ofAspergillus pathogenicity. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 65, 251–255 (1994).

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Key words

  • Aspergillus
  • gene disruption
  • pathogenicity
  • proteases
  • toxins