Unveiling Protein Kinase A Targets in Cryptococcus neoformans Capsule Formation.

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The protein kinase A (PKA) signal transduction pathway has been associated with pathogenesis in many fungal species. Geddes and colleagues [mBio 7(1):e01862-15, 2016, doi:10.1128/mBio.01862-15] used quantitative proteomics approaches to define proteins with altered abundance during protein kinase A (PKA) activation and repression in the opportunistic human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. They observed an association between microbial PKA signaling and ubiquitin-proteasome regulation of protein homeostasis. Additionally, they correlated these processes with expression of polysaccharide capsule on the fungal cell surface, the main virulence-associated phenotype in this organism. Not only are their findings important for microbial pathogenesis, but they also support similar associations between human PKA signaling and ubiquitinated protein accumulation in neurodegenerative diseases.





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Alspaugh, J Andrew (2016). Unveiling Protein Kinase A Targets in Cryptococcus neoformans Capsule Formation. MBio, 7(1). pp. e00021–e00016. 10.1128/mBio.00021-16 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/11677.

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James Andrew Alspaugh

Professor of Medicine

The focus of my research is to understand the ways in which microorganisms sense and respond to changes in their environment. As microbial pathogens enter the infected host, dramatic genetic and phenotypic events occur that allow these organisms to survive in this harsh environment. We study the model fungal organism Cryptococcus neoformans to define signal transduction pathways associated with systemic fungal diseases. This pathogenic fungus causes lethal infections of the central nervous system in patients with AIDS and other immunological disorders. In addition to being an important pathogen, C. neoformans displays well-characterized and inducible virulence determinants. It is an outstanding system for dissecting the signaling pathways associated with pathogenicity.

The main techniques used in the lab are those of molecular genetics. We are able to readily mutate C. neoformans genes by homologous recombination. Mutant strains with disruptions in targeted genes are then evaluated in vitro for various phenotypes including altered expression of polysaccharide capsule and melanin. The effects of gene disruption on pathogenicity are also evaluated in animal models of cryptococcal disease. Using these techniques, we have identified a novel G-alpha protein/cAMP-dependent signaling pathway associated with mating and pathogenicity.

This research is complemented by the other investigators in the Duke University Mycology Research Unit. The members of this research community are pursuing studies in fungal pathogenesis, identifying novel antifungal drug targets, and studying the ecology of several medically important fungi.

Keywords: Microbial Pathogenesis
Cryptococcus neoformans
Signal transduction
Fungal mating
G proteins

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