Cryptococcus neoformans is an environmental fungus that belongs to the phylum Basidiomycetes and is a major pathogen in immunocompromised patients. The ability of C. neoformans to produce melanin pigments represents its second most important virulence factor, after the presence of a polysaccharide capsule. Both the capsule and melanin are closely associated with the fungal cell wall, a complex structure that is essential for maintaining cell morphology and viability under conditions of stress. The amino sugar N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) is a key constituent of the cell-wall chitin and is used for both N-linked glycosylation and GPI anchor synthesis. Recent studies have suggested additional roles for GlcNAc as an activator and mediator of cellular signalling in fungal and plant cells. Furthermore, chitin and chitosan polysaccharides interact with melanin pigments in the cell wall and have been found to be essential for melanization. Despite the importance of melanin, its molecular structure remains unresolved; however, we previously obtained critical insights using advanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and imaging techniques. In this study, we investigated the effect of GlcNAc supplementation on cryptococcal cell-wall composition and melanization. C. neoformans was able to metabolize GlcNAc as a sole source of carbon and nitrogen, indicating a capacity to use a component of a highly abundant polymer in the biospherenutritionally. C. neoformans cells grown with GlcNAc manifested changes in the chitosan cell-wall content, cell-wall thickness and capsule size. Supplementing cultures with isotopically 15N-labelled GlcNAc demonstrated that the exogenous monomer serves as a building block for chitin/chitosan and is incorporated into the cell wall. The altered chitin-to-chitosan ratio had no negative effects on the mother-daughter cell separation; growth with GlcNAc affected the fungal cell-wall scaffold, resulting in increased melanin deposition and assembly. In summary, GlcNAc supplementation had pleiotropic effects on cell-wall and melanin architectures, and thus established its capacity to perturb these structures, a property that could prove useful for metabolic tracking studies.
- Fungal cell wall
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