Structural and Biochemical Dissection of the Trehalose Biosynthetic Complex in Pathogenic Fungi

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Brennan, Richard G

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Trehalose is a non-reducing disaccharide essential for pathogenic fungal survival and virulence. The biosynthesis of trehalose requires the trehalose-6-phosphate synthase, Tps1, and trehalose-6-phosphate phosphatase, Tps2. More importantly, the trehalose biosynthetic pathway is absent in mammals, conferring this pathway as an ideal target for antifungal drug design. However, lack of germane biochemical and structural information hinders antifungal drug design against these targets.

In this dissertation, macromolecular X-ray crystallography and biochemical assays were employed to understand the structures and functions of proteins involved in the trehalose biosynthetic pathway. I report here the first eukaryotic Tps1 structures from Candida albicans (C. albicans) and Aspergillus fumigatus (A. fumigatus) with substrates or substrate analogs. These structures reveal the key residues involved in substrate binding and catalysis. Subsequent enzymatic assays and cellular assays highlight the significance of these key Tps1 residues in enzyme function and fungal stress response. The Tps1 structure captured in its transition-state with a non-hydrolysable inhibitor demonstrates that Tps1 adopts an “internal return like” mechanism for catalysis. Furthermore, disruption of the trehalose biosynthetic complex formation through abolishing Tps1 dimerization reveals that complex formation has regulatory function in addition to trehalose production, providing additional targets for antifungal drug intervention.

I also present here the structure of the Tps2 N-terminal domain (Tps2NTD) from C. albicans, which may be involved in the proper formation of the trehalose biosynthetic complex. Deletion of the Tps2NTD results in a temperature sensitive phenotype. Further, I describe in this dissertation the structures of the Tps2 phosphatase domain (Tps2PD) from C. albicans, A. fumigatus and Cryptococcus neoformans (C. neoformans) in multiple conformational states. The structures of the C. albicans Tps2PD -BeF3-trehalose complex and C. neoformans Tps2PD(D24N)-T6P complex reveal extensive interactions between both glucose moieties of the trehalose involving all eight hydroxyl groups and multiple residues of both the cap and core domains of Tps2PD. These structures also reveal that steric hindrance is a key underlying factor for the exquisite substrate specificity of Tps2PD. In addition, the structures of Tps2PD in the open conformation provide direct visualization of the conformational changes of this domain that are effected by substrate binding and product release.

Last, I present the structure of the C. albicans trehalose synthase regulatory protein (Tps3) pseudo-phosphatase domain (Tps3PPD) structure. Tps3PPD adopts a haloacid dehydrogenase superfamily (HADSF) phosphatase fold with a core Rossmann-fold domain and a α/β fold cap domain. Despite lack of phosphatase activity, the cleft between the Tps3PPD core domain and cap domain presents a binding pocket for a yet uncharacterized ligand. Identification of this ligand could reveal the cellular function of Tps3 and any interconnection of the trehalose biosynthetic pathway with other cellular metabolic pathways.

Combined, these structures together with significant biochemical analyses advance our understanding of the proteins responsible for trehalose biosynthesis. These structures are ready to be exploited to rationally design or optimize inhibitors of the trehalose biosynthetic pathway enzymes. Hence, the work described in this thesis has laid the groundwork for the design of Tps1 and Tps2 specific inhibitors, which ultimately could lead to novel therapeutics to treat fungal infections.






Miao, Yi (2016). Structural and Biochemical Dissection of the Trehalose Biosynthetic Complex in Pathogenic Fungi. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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