Roles of RNA interference and DNA mismatch repair in maintaining genomic integrity in Cryptococcus pathogens
Microorganisms must regulate genomic stability to strike a balance between excessive deleterious mutation and evolutionary stagnation to successfully compete and endure within their ecological niches. Two important mechanisms involved in maintaining genomic stability are RNA interference (RNAi) and DNA mismatch repair (MMR). RNAi defends the host genome by targeting double-stranded viral RNAs and aberrant endogenous RNAs for degradation. Endogenous sources of aberrant RNAs include transcripts derived from transposable elements and repetitive sequences as well as transcripts with inefficiently spliced introns. Transcription and translation of these endogenous aberrant RNAs is often considered deleterious to the host because transposable elements are capable of replicating and spreading throughout the genome, a process that can disrupt genes and destabilize chromosomes. The DNA MMR pathway canonically detects mismatches caused by DNA damage or errors during DNA replication. After recognizing mismatches, MMR pathway components recruit the appropriate proteins for removal and repair of the mismatched nucleotide. In addition to this role, MMR pathway components are also involved in the rejection of homeologous, or only partially homologous, meiotic recombination intermediates. This activity mediates a critical role in the maintenance of species boundaries, by inhibiting successful recombination between the genomes of two sufficiently divergent organisms, often preventing the production of viable or fertile progeny.The first chapter of this dissertation begins by introducing pathogenic Cryptococcus species, their ability to mediate disease in humans, and various aspects of their genomes and life cycles. Following the introduction to Cryptococcus, factors known to mediate genomic instability in fungi are described. In Chapter 2, the identification and characterization of two clinical Cryptococcus neoformans isolates with significantly increased mutation rates due to RNAi loss and rampant mobilization of a transposable element are detailed. Chapter 3 describes the impact of loss of a functional MMR pathway on the species boundary between C. neoformans and Cryptococcus deneoformans, sister species within the pathogenic Cryptococcus species complex. In Chapter 4, experimental procedures for conducting genetic crosses with Cryptococcus, isolating meiotic products, and many factors impacting these methods are presented. The conclusions of each preceding chapter are then summarized in Chapter 5, where I also put forth further questions and directions for each project. In Appendices A and B, two ongoing projects focused on the identification of additional RNAi-deficient C. neoformans strains as well as work to discover novel RNAi components are respectively described. Lastly, Appendices C and D include supplementary tables from Chapters 2 and 3, respectively.
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