Mitochondrial Complex I Is a Global Regulator of Secondary Metabolism, Virulence and Azole Sensitivity in Fungi

Michael Bromley, Anna Johns, Emma Davies, Marcin Fraczek, Jane Gilsenan, Natalya Kurbatova, Maria Keays, Misha Kapushesky, Marta Gut, Ivo Gut, David Denning, Paul Bowyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent estimates of the global burden of fungal disease suggest that that their incidence has been drastically underestimated and that mortality may rival that of malaria or tuberculosis. Azoles are the principal class of antifungal drug and the only available oral treatment for fungal disease. Recent occurrence and increase in azole resistance is a major concern worldwide. Known azole resistance mechanisms include over-expression of efflux pumps and mutation of the gene encoding the target protein cyp51a, however, for one of the most important fungal pathogens of humans, Aspergillus fumigatus, much of the observed azole resistance does not appear to involve such mechanisms. Here we present evidence that azole resistance in A. fumigatus can arise through mutation of components of mitochondrial complex I. Gene deletions of the 29.9KD subunit of this complex are azole resistant, less virulent and exhibit dysregulation of secondary metabolite gene clusters in a manner analogous to deletion mutants of the secondary metabolism regulator, LaeA. Additionally we observe that a mutation leading to an E180D amino acid change in the 29.9 KD subunit is strongly associated with clinical azole resistant A. fumigatus isolates. Evidence presented in this paper suggests that complex I may play a role in the hypoxic response and that one possible mechanism for cell death during azole treatment is a dysfunctional hypoxic response that may be restored by dysregulation of complex I. Both deletion of the 29.9 KD subunit of complex I and azole treatment alone profoundly change expression of gene clusters involved in secondary metabolism and immunotoxin production raising potential concerns about long term azole therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0158724
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2016


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