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J Eukaryot Microbiol. 2002 Sep-Oct;49(5):367-73.

Is Pneumocystis a plant?

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Ohio 45221, USA.


Pneumocystis, an AIDS-associated opportunistic pathogen of the lung has some unusual features. This article focuses on work done by my group to understand the organism's distinct sterols. Although Pneumocystis is closely related to fungi, it lacks the major fungal sterol, ergosterol. Several delta(7) 24-alkysterols synthesized by P. carinii are the same as those reported in some basidiomycete rust fungi. The 24-alkylsterols are synthesized by the action of S-adenosyl-L-methionine:C-24 sterol methyl transferase (SAM:SMT). Fungal SAM:SMT enzymes normally transfer only one methyl group to the C-24 position of the sterol side chain and the cells accumulate C28 24-alkylsterols. In contrast, the P. carinii SAM:SMT and those of some plants catalyze one or two methyl transfer reactions producing both C28 and C29 24-alkylsterols. However, unlike most fungi, plants, and the kinetoplastid flagellates Leishmania and Trypanosoma cruzi, P. carinii does not appear to form double bonds at C-5 of the sterol nucleus and C-22 of the sterol side chain. Furthermore, the P. carinii SAM:SMT substrate preference for C30 lanosterol differs from that of homologous enzymes in any other organisms studied. C31 24-Methylenelanosterol and C32 pneumocysterol, products of SAM:SMT activity on lanosterol, can accumulate in high amounts in some, but not all, human-derived Pneumocystis jiroveci populations.

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