Calcineurin controls growth, morphology, and pathogenicity in Aspergillus fumigatus

William J. Steinbach, Robert A. Cramer, B. Zachary Perfect, Yohannes G. Asfaw, Theodor C. Sauer, Laura K. Najvar, William R. Kirkpatrick, Thomas F. Patterson, Daniel K. Benjamin, Joseph Heitman, John R. Perfect

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235 Scopus citations


Calcineurin is implicated in a myriad of human diseases as well as homeostasis and virulence in several major human pathogenic microorganisms. The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus is a leading cause of infectious death in the rapidly expanding immunocompromised patient population. Current antifungal treatments for invasive aspergillosis are often ineffective, and novel therapeutic approaches are urgently needed. We demonstrate that a mutant of A. fumigatus lacking the calcineurin A (cnaA) catalytic subunit exhibited defective hyphal morphology related to apical extension and polarized growth, which resulted in drastically decreased filamentation. The ΔcnaA mutant lacked the extensive lattice of invading hyphae seen with the wild-type and complemented strains. Sporulation was also affected in the ΔcnaA mutant, including morphological conidial defects with the absence of surface rodlets and the added presence of disjunctors creating long conidial chains. Infection with the ΔcnaA mutant in several distinct animal models with different types of immunosuppression and inoculum delivery led to a profound attenuation of pathogenicity compared to infection with the wild-type and complemented strains. Lung tissue from animals infected with the ΔcnaA mutant showed a complete absence of hyphae, in contrast to tissue from animals infected with the wild-type and complemented strains. Quantitative fungal burden and pulmonary infarct scoring confirmed these findings. Onr results support the clinical observation that substantially decreasing fungal growth can prevent disease establishment and decrease mortality. Our findings reveal that calcineurin appears to play a globally conserved role in the virulence of several pathogenic fungi and yet plays specialized roles in each and can be an excellent target for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1091-1103
Number of pages13
JournalEukaryotic Cell
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology


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