Diploids in the Cryptococcus neoformans serotype A population homozygous for the alpha mating type originate via unisexual mating.
ABSTRACT: The ubiquitous environmental human pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans is traditionally considered a haploid fungus with a bipolar mating system. In nature, the alpha mating type is overwhelmingly predominant over a. How genetic diversity is generated and maintained by this heterothallic fungus in a largely unisexual alpha population is unclear. Recently it was discovered that C. neoformans can undergo same-sex mating under laboratory conditions generating both diploid intermediates and haploid recombinant progeny. Same-sex mating (alpha-alpha) also occurs in nature as evidenced by the existence of natural diploid alphaADalpha hybrids that arose by fusion between two alpha cells of different serotypes (A and D). How significantly this novel sexual style contributes to genetic diversity of the Cryptococcus population was unknown. In this study, approximately 500 natural C. neoformans isolates were tested for ploidy and close to 8% were found to be diploid by fluorescence flow cytometry analysis. The majority of these diploids were serotype A isolates with two copies of the alpha MAT locus allele. Among those, several are intra-varietal allodiploid hybrids produced by fusion of two genetically distinct alpha cells through same-sex mating. The majority, however, are autodiploids that harbor two seemingly identical copies of the genome and arose via either endoreplication or clonal mating. The diploids identified were isolated from different geographic locations and varied genotypically and phenotypically, indicating independent non-clonal origins. The present study demonstrates that unisexual mating produces diploid isolates of C. neoformans in nature, giving rise to populations of hybrids and mixed ploidy. Our findings underscore the importance of same-sex mating in shaping the current population structure of this important human pathogenic fungus, with implications for mechanisms of selfing and inbreeding in other microbial pathogens.
Project description:Hybridization with polyploidization is a significant biological force driving evolution. The effect of combining two distinct genomes in one organism on the virulence potential of pathogenic fungi is not clear. Cryptococcus neoformans, the most common cause of fungal infection of the central nervous system, has a bipolar mating system with a and alpha mating types and occurs as A (haploid), D (haploid), and AD hybrid (mostly diploid) serotypes. Diploid AD hybrids are derived either from a-alpha mating or from unisexual mating between haploid cells. The precise contributions of increased ploidy, the effect of hybridization between serotypes A and D, and the combination of mating types to the virulence potential of AD hybrids have remained elusive. By using in vitro and in vivo characterization of laboratory-constructed isogenic diploids and AD hybrids with all possible mating type combinations in defined genetic backgrounds, we found that higher ploidy has a minor negative effect on virulence in a murine inhalation model of cryptococcosis. The presence of both mating types a and alpha in AD hybrids did not affect the virulence potential, irrespective of the serotype origin. Interestingly, AD hybrids with only one mating type behaved differently, with the virulence of alphaADalpha strains similar to that of other hybrids, while aADa hybrids displayed significantly lower virulence due to negative epistatic interactions between the Aa and Da alleles of the mating type locus. This study provides insights into the impact of ploidy, mating type, and serotype on virulence and the impact of hybridization on the fitness and virulence of a eukaryotic microbial pathogen.
Project description:Cryptococcus neoformans is a ubiquitous human fungal pathogen that causes meningoencephalitis in predominantly immunocompromised hosts. The fungus is typically haploid, and sexual reproduction involves two individuals with opposite mating types/sexes, alpha and a. However, the overwhelming predominance of mating type (MAT) alpha over a in C. neoformans populations limits alpha-a mating in nature. Recently it was discovered that C. neoformans can undergo same-sex mating under laboratory conditions, especially between alpha isolates. Whether same-sex mating occurs in nature and contributes to the current population structure was unknown. In this study, natural alpha AD alpha hybrids that arose by fusion between two alpha cells of different serotypes (A and D) were identified and characterized, providing definitive evidence that same-sex mating occurs naturally. A novel truncated allele of the mating-type-specific cell identity determinant SXI1 alpha was also identified as a genetic factor likely involved in this process. In addition, laboratory-constructed alpha AD alpha strains exhibited hybrid vigor both in vitro and in vivo, providing a plausible explanation for their relative abundance in nature despite the fact that AD hybrids are inefficient in meiosis/sporulation and are trapped in the diploid state. These findings provide insights on the origins, genetic mechanisms, and fitness impact of unisexual hybridization in the Cryptococcus population.
Project description:The sexual mating of the pathogenic yeast Cryptococcus neoformans is important for pathogenesis studies because the fungal virulence is linked to the alpha mating type (MAT(alpha)). We characterized C. neoformans mating pheromones (MF(alpha) 1 and MFa1) from 122 strains to understand intervariety hybridization or mating and intervariety virulence. MF(alpha) 1 in three C. neoformans varieties showed (a) specific nucleotide polymorphisms, (b) different copy numbers and chromosomal localizations, and (c) unique deduced amino acids in two geographic populations of C. neoformans var. gattii. MF(alpha) 1 of different varieties cross-hybridized in Southern hybridizations. Their phylogenetic analyses showed purifying selection (neutral evolution). These observations suggested that MAT(alpha) strains from any of the three C. neoformans varieties could mate or hybridize in nature with MATa strains of C. neoformans var. neoformans. A few serotype A/D diploid strains provided evidence for mating or hybridization, while a majority of A/D strains tested positive for haploid MF(alpha) 1 identical to that of C. neoformans var. grubii. MF(alpha) 1 sequence and copy numbers in diploids were identical to those of C. neoformans var. grubii, while their MFa1 sequences were identical to those of C. neoformans var. neoformans; thus, these strains were hybrids. The mice survival curves and histological lesions revealed A/D diploids to be highly pathogenic, with pathogenicity levels similar to that of the C. neoformans var. grubii type strain and unlike the low pathogenicity levels of C. neoformans var. neoformans strains. In contrast to MF(alpha) 1 in three varieties, MFa1 amplicons and hybridization signals could be obtained only from two C. neoformans var. neoformans reference strains and eight A/D diploids. This suggested that a yet undiscovered MFa pheromone(s) in C. neoformans var. gattii and C. neoformans var. grubii is unrelated to, highly divergent from, or rarer than that in C. neoformans var. neoformans. These observations could form the basis for future studies on the role of intervariety mating in C. neoformans biology and virulence.
Project description:Sexual reproduction and genetic exchange are important for the evolution of fungal pathogens and for producing potentially infective spores. Studies to determine whether sex occurs in the pathogenic yeast Cryptococcus neoformans var. grubii have produced enigmatic results, however: basidiospores are the most likely infective propagules, and clinical isolates are fertile and genetically diverse, consistent with a sexual species, but almost all populations examined consist of a single mating type and have little evidence for genetic recombination. The choice of population is critical when looking for recombination, particularly when significant asexual propagation is likely and when latency may complicate assessing the origin of an isolate. We therefore selected isolates from infected animals living in the region of Sydney, Australia, with the assumption that the relatively short life spans and limited travels of the animal hosts would provide a very defined population. All isolates were mating type alpha and were of molecular genotype VNI or VNII. A lack of linkage disequilibrium among loci suggested that genetic exchange occurred within both genotype groups. Four diploid VNII isolates that produced filaments and basidium-like structures when cultured in proximity to an a mating type strain were found. Recent studies suggest that compatible alpha-alpha unions can occur in C. neoformans var. neoformans populations and in populations of the sibling species Cryptococcus gattii. As a mating type strains of C. neoformans var. grubii have never been found in Australia, or in the VNII molecular type globally, the potential for alpha-alpha unions is evidence that alpha-alpha unisexual mating maintains sexual recombination and diversity in this pathogen and may produce infectious propagules.
Project description:Cryptococcus neoformans is a pathogenic basidiomycetous fungus that engages in outcrossing, inbreeding, and selfing forms of unisexual reproduction as well as canonical sexual reproduction between opposite mating types. Long thought to be clonal, >99% of sampled environmental and clinical isolates of C. neoformans are MAT?, limiting the frequency of opposite mating-type sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction allows eukaryotic organisms to exchange genetic information and shuffle their genomes to avoid the irreversible accumulation of deleterious changes that occur in asexual populations, known as Muller's ratchet. We tested whether unisexual reproduction, which dispenses with the requirement for an opposite mating-type partner, is able to purge the genome of deleterious mutations. We report that the unisexual cycle can restore mutant strains of C. neoformans to wild-type genotype and phenotype, including prototrophy and growth rate. Furthermore, the unisexual cycle allows attenuated strains to purge deleterious mutations and produce progeny that are returned to wild-type virulence. Our results show that unisexual populations of C. neoformans are able to avoid Muller's ratchet and loss of fitness through a unisexual reproduction cycle involving ?-? cell fusion, nuclear fusion, and meiosis. Similar types of unisexual reproduction may operate in other pathogenic and saprobic eukaryotic taxa.
Project description:Cryptococcus neoformans is a human fungal pathogen that undergoes a dimorphic transition from yeast to hyphae during a-? opposite-sex mating and ?-? unisexual reproduction (same-sex mating). Infectious spores are generated during both processes. We previously identified a sex-induced silencing (SIS) pathway in the C. neoformans serotype A var. grubii lineage, in which tandem transgene arrays trigger RNAi-dependent gene silencing at a high frequency during a-? opposite-sex mating, but at an ?250-fold lower frequency during asexual mitotic vegetative growth. Here we report that SIS also operates during ?-? unisexual reproduction. A self-fertile strain containing either SXI2a-URA5 or NEO-URA5 transgene arrays exhibited an elevated silencing frequency during solo and unisexual mating compared with mitotic vegetative growth. We also found that SIS operates at a similar efficiency on transgene arrays of the same copy number during either ?-? unisexual reproduction or a-? opposite-sex mating. URA5-derived small RNAs were detected in the silenced progeny of ?-? unisexual reproduction and RNAi core components were required, providing evidence that SIS induced by same-sex mating is also mediated by RNAi via sequence-specific small RNAs. In addition, our data show that the SIS RNAi pathway also operates to defend the genome via squelching transposon activity during same-sex mating as it does during opposite-sex mating. Taken together, our results confirm that SIS is conserved between the divergent C. neoformans serotype A and serotype D cryptic sibling species.
Project description:The human basidiomycetous fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans serves as a model fungus to study sexual development and produces infectious propagules, basidiospores, via the sexual cycle. Karyogamy is the process of nuclear fusion and an essential step to complete mating. Therefore, regulation of nuclear fusion is central to understanding sexual development of C. neoformans. However, our knowledge of karyogamy genes was limited. In this study, using a BLAST search with the Saccharomyces cerevisiae KAR genes, we identified five C. neoformans karyogamy gene orthologs: CnKAR2, CnKAR3, CnKAR4, CnKAR7 (or CnSEC66), and CnKAR8. There are no apparent orthologs of the S. cerevisiae genes ScKAR1, ScKAR5, and ScKar9 in C. neoformans. Karyogamy involves the congression of two nuclei followed by nuclear membrane fusion, which results in diploidization. ScKar7 (or ScSec66) is known to be involved in nuclear membrane fusion. In C. neoformans, kar7 mutants display significant defects in hyphal growth and basidiospore chain formation during both a-? opposite and ?-? unisexual reproduction. Fluorescent nuclear imaging revealed that during kar7 × kar7 bilateral mutant matings, the nuclei congress but fail to fuse in the basidia. These results demonstrate that the KAR7 gene plays an integral role in both opposite-sex and unisexual mating, indicating that proper control of nuclear dynamics is important. CnKAR2 was found to be essential for viability, and its function in mating is not known. No apparent phenotypes were observed during mating of kar3, kar4, or kar8 mutants, suggesting that the role of these genes may be dispensable for C. neoformans mating, which demonstrates a different evolutionary trajectory for the KAR genes in C. neoformans compared to those in S. cerevisiae.
Project description:Candida albicans is the most common fungal pathogen in humans, causing both debilitating mucosal infections and potentially life-threatening systemic infections. Until recently, C. albicans was thought to be strictly asexual, existing only as an obligate diploid. A cryptic mating cycle has since been uncovered in which diploid a and alpha cells undergo efficient cell and nuclear fusion, resulting in tetraploid a/alpha mating products. Whereas mating between a and alpha cells has been established (heterothallism), we report here two pathways for same-sex mating (homothallism) in C. albicans. First, unisexual populations of a cells were found to undergo autocrine pheromone signalling and same-sex mating in the absence of the Bar1 protease. In both C. albicans and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Bar1 is produced by a cells and inactivates mating pheromone alpha, typically secreted by alpha cells. C. albicans Deltabar1 a cells were shown to secrete both a and alpha mating pheromones; alpha-pheromone activated self-mating in these cells in a process dependent on Ste2, the receptor for alpha-pheromone. In addition, pheromone production by alpha cells was found to promote same-sex mating between wild-type a cells. These results establish that homothallic mating can occur in C. albicans, revealing the potential for genetic exchange even within unisexual populations of the organism. Furthermore, Bar1 protease has an unexpected but pivotal role in determining whether sexual reproduction can potentially be homothallic or is exclusively heterothallic. These findings also have implications for the mode of sexual reproduction in related species that propagate unisexually, and indicate a role for specialized sexual cycles in the survival and adaptation of pathogenic fungi.
Project description:Hybridization between tetraploids and their related diploids is generally unsuccessful in Centaurea, hence natural formation of triploid hybrids is rare. In contrast, the diploid Centaurea aspera and the allotetraploid C. seridis coexist in several contact zones where a high frequency of triploid hybrids is found. We analyzed the floral biology of the three taxa to identify reproductive isolation mechanisms that allow their coexistence. Flowering phenology was recorded, and controlled pollinations within and between the three taxa were performed in the field. Ploidy level and germination of progeny were also assessed. There was a 50% flowering overlap which indicated a phenological shift. Diploids were strictly allogamous and did not display mentor effects, while tetraploids were found to be highly autogamous. This breakdown of self-incompatibility by polyploids is first described in Centaurea. The asymmetrical formation of the hybrid was also found: all the triploid intact cypselae came from the diploid mothers pollinated by the pollen of tetraploids. Pollen and eggs from triploids were totally sterile, acting as a strong triploid block. These prezygotic isolation mechanisms ensured higher assortative mating in tetraploids than in diploids, improving their persistence in the contact zones. However these mechanisms can also be the cause of the low genetic diversity and high genetic structure observed in C. seridis.
Project description:Compared to the incidence in adults, cryptococcosis is inexplicably rare among children, even in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest prevalence of coinfection with HIV and Cryptococcus neoformans. To explore any mycological basis for this age-related difference in the incidence of cryptococcosis, we investigated isolates of C. neoformans recovered from pediatric and adult patients during a 2-year period in South Africa. From reports to the Group for Enteric, Respiratory, and Meningeal Disease Surveillance in South Africa (GERMS-SA), we reviewed all cases of cryptococcosis in 2005 and 2006. We analyzed one isolate of C. neoformans from each of 82 pediatric patients (<15 years of age) and determined the multilocus sequence type (ST), mating type, ploidy, and allelic profile. This sample included isolates of all three molecular types of serotype A or C. neoformans var. grubii (molecular types VNI, VNII, and VNB) and one AD hybrid. Seventy-seven (94%) of the strains possessed the MAT? mating type allele, and five were MATa. Seventy-five (91%) were haploid, and seven were diploid. A total of 24 different STs were identified. The ratios of each mating type and the proportion of haploids were comparable to those for the isolates that were obtained from 86 adult patients during the same period. Notably, the most prevalent pediatric ST was significantly associated with male patients. Overall, these pediatric isolates exhibited high genotypic diversity. They included a relatively large percentage of diploids and the rarely reported MATa mating type.