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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phylogenetic diversity of stress signalling pathways in fungi

Elissavet Nikolaou1, Ino Agrafioti2, Michael Stumpf2, Janet Quinn3, Ian Stansfield1 and Alistair JP Brown1*

Author Affiliations

1 Aberdeen Fungal Group, School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK

2 Centre for Bioinformatics, Division of Molecular Biosciences, Wolfson Building, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London, SW7 2AZ, UK

3 Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, 3rd Floor, Catherine Cookson Building, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-44

Published: 21 February 2009

Abstract

Background

Microbes must sense environmental stresses, transduce these signals and mount protective responses to survive in hostile environments. In this study we have tested the hypothesis that fungal stress signalling pathways have evolved rapidly in a niche-specific fashion that is independent of phylogeny. To test this hypothesis we have compared the conservation of stress signalling molecules in diverse fungal species with their stress resistance. These fungi, which include ascomycetes, basidiomycetes and microsporidia, occupy highly divergent niches from saline environments to plant or mammalian hosts.

Results

The fungi displayed significant variation in their resistance to osmotic (NaCl and sorbitol), oxidative (H2O2 and menadione) and cell wall stresses (Calcofluor White and Congo Red). There was no strict correlation between fungal phylogeny and stress resistance. Rather, the human pathogens tended to be more resistant to all three types of stress, an exception being the sensitivity of Candida albicans to the cell wall stress, Calcofluor White. In contrast, the plant pathogens were relatively sensitive to oxidative stress. The degree of conservation of osmotic, oxidative and cell wall stress signalling pathways amongst the eighteen fungal species was examined. Putative orthologues of functionally defined signalling components in Saccharomyces cerevisiae were identified by performing reciprocal BLASTP searches, and the percent amino acid identities of these orthologues recorded. This revealed that in general, central components of the osmotic, oxidative and cell wall stress signalling pathways are relatively well conserved, whereas the sensors lying upstream and transcriptional regulators lying downstream of these modules have diverged significantly. There was no obvious correlation between the degree of conservation of stress signalling pathways and the resistance of a particular fungus to the corresponding stress.

Conclusion

Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that fungal stress signalling components have undergone rapid recent evolution to tune the stress responses in a niche-specific fashion.