Characterization of genes involved in the synthesis of β(1→3) glucan, and investigation of genetic interactions among three Rho-type GTPase genes in the polymorphic fungus Wangiella (Exophiala) dematitidis
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Morphological transitions in Wangiella dermatitidis, a causative agent of human phaeohyphomycosis, influence virulence processes in this polymorphic fungus. My project first involved the cloning and characterizion of the β(1→3) glucan synthase gene WdFKS1, which encodes the enzyme's catalytic subunit, followed by cloning and characterizing the WdRHO1 gene, which encodes its regulatory subunit. To better understand the Rho-type GTPase-mediated regulation of cell polarity and its role in fungal morphological transitions, a homologue of WdRAC1 from a W. dermatitidis was subsequently identified by degenerate PCR and gene walking. Gene deletions of WdFKS1 and WdRHO1 in haploid W. dermatitidis were lethal, whereas the deletion of WdRAC1 was not. RNA interference on WdFKS1 mRNA expression resulted in incomplete septa and damaged cell wall integrity, as well as slow growth rate in W. dermatitidis. Overexpression studies, after site-specific integrations of WdRHO1 and WdRAC1 alleles under control of the glaA promoter into the nonessential WdPKS1 locus, showed the different alleles had different effects on the cell morphological development. For example, whereas overexpression of the wdrho1⁺ allele did not affect the growth rate of W. dermatitidis, the overexpression of wdrho1[superscript G14V], a constitutively active mutation, slowed growth and repressed true filamentous hyphal growth by promoting pseudohyphal growth. While the deletion of WdRAC1 did not affect growth, its loss retarded polarized hyphal growth in a hyphal-inducing minimal medium. Moreover, three new phenotypes of a previously derived WdCDC42 deletion mutant were discovered during this study: in the first, the wdcdc42[Delta] mutant displayed cell lysis when incubated in YPMaltose medium at 37°C; in the second, a dark budding neck abnormality was found after Calcoflour staining; and in the third, the wdcdc42[Delta] mutant displayed no branching during true hyphal growth. Interestingly, the overexpression of wdrac1[superscript G16V] complemented the second and the third phenotypes caused by the WdCDC42 deletion. In addition, the wdcdc42[Delta]/wdrac1[superscript G16V] double mutant unexpectedly displayed an interrupted carotenogenesis pathway. These results support that in W. dermatitidis, Rho-type GTPases play essential roles in growth rate determination and cellular morphogenesis, especially while producing polarized hyphal growth during its many morphological transitions.