Cellular Coordinators: Mechanisms by Which Non-Enzymatic Proteins Contribute to Growth and Cell Surface Remodeling in the Human Fungal Pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans

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2022

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My thesis work has focused on characterizing mechanisms by which human fungal pathogens regulate their adaptive cellular responses in order to survive and cause disease in the human host. Unlike most microbial fungi found in the environment, Cryptococcus neoformans has become a successful human pathogen due to two intrinsic abilities: 1) to survive and grow at human body temperature and 2) to employ virulence factors to combat host immune defenses. Over the past two decades, the fungal pathogenesis field has made enormous progress in identifying and characterizing C. neoformans proteins responsible for these adaptive cellular responses with a particular focus on enzymes, like those involved in cell cycle progression or those responsible for synthesizing components of the fungal cell surface. Although we know a substantial amount about the functions of these enzymes and their implications on fungal pathogenesis, the mechanisms by which these enzymes are regulated are less clear. I have attempted to address this gap in knowledge by focusing my thesis work on the identification and characterization of C. neoformans non-enzymatic proteins that regulate enzymes important for adaptive cellular responses. I have identified and characterized the C. neoformans arrestin proteins as regulators of enzyme ubiquitination, and likely enzyme function, in response to specific extracellular stressors (Chapters 2 & 3). I have also characterized a Cryptococcus-specific protein, Mar1, as an important modulator of host-fungal interactions due to its regulation of cell surface remodeling through maintenance of mitochondrial metabolic activity and homeostasis in response to cellular stress (Chapters 4 & 5). Furthermore, I also performed a comprehensive comparative analysis of different RNA enrichment methods for RNA sequencing applications and long non-coding RNA identification in C. neoformans, which can help researchers select appropriate tools for studying adaptive cellular responses from the RNA level (Chapter 6). These studies collectively have demonstrated that non-enzymatic proteins are important “cellular coordinators” in human fungal pathogens; they regulate the activity of many different enzymes in response to distinct extracellular signals, and as a result are required for both fungal growth and virulence factor employment in response to host-relevant stressors.

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Telzrow, Calla Lee (2022). Cellular Coordinators: Mechanisms by Which Non-Enzymatic Proteins Contribute to Growth and Cell Surface Remodeling in the Human Fungal Pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25191.

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