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Mol Med Rep. 2018 May;17(5):6585-6597. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2018.8716. Epub 2018 Mar 9.

Sterol uptake and sterol biosynthesis act coordinately to mediate antifungal resistance in Candida glabrata under azole and hypoxic stress.

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Clinical Mycology Section, Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry Section, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Pathogenic fungi, including Candida glabrata, develop strategies to grow and survive both in vitro and in vivo under azole stress. However, the mechanisms by which yeast cells counteract the inhibitory effects of azoles are not completely understood. In the current study, it was demonstrated that the expression of the ergosterol biosynthetic genes ERG2, ERG3, ERG4, ERG10, and ERG11 was significantly upregulated in C. glabrata following fluconazole treatment. Inhibiting ergosterol biosynthesis using fluconazole also increased the expression of the sterol influx transporter AUS1 and the sterol metabolism regulators SUT1 and UPC2 in fungal cells. The microarray study quantified 35 genes with elevated mRNA levels, including AUS1, TIR3, UPC2, and 8 ERG genes, in a C. glabrata mutant strain lacking ERG1, indicating that sterol importing activity is increased to compensate for defective sterol biosynthesis in cells. Bioinformatic analyses further revealed that those differentially expressed genes were involved in multiple cellular processes and biological functions, such as sterol biosynthesis, lipid localization, and sterol transport. Finally, to assess whether sterol uptake affects yeast susceptibility to azoles, we generated a C. glabrata aus1∆ mutant strain. It was shown that loss of Aus1p in C. glabrata sensitized the pathogen to azoles and enhanced the efficacy of drug exposure under low oxygen tension. In contrast, the presence of exogenous cholesterol or ergosterol in medium rendered the C. glabrata AUS1 wild‑type strain highly resistant to fluconazole and voriconazole, suggesting that the sterol importing mechanism is augmented when ergosterol biosynthesis is suppressed in the cell, thus allowing C. glabrata to survive under azole pressure. On the basis of these results, it was concluded that sterol uptake and sterol biosynthesis may act coordinately and collaboratively to sustain growth and to mediate antifungal resistance in C. glabrata through dynamic gene expression in response to azole stress and environmental challenges.

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