The Journal of biological chemistry 2017 01 06() pii 10.1074/jbc.M116.767533
Over the last four decades the HIV pandemic and advances in medical treatments that also cause immunosuppression have produced an ever-growing cohort of individuals susceptible to opportunistic pathogens. Of these, AIDS patients are particularly vulnerable to infection by the encapsulated yeast Cryptococcus neoformans Most commonly found in the environment in purine-rich bird guano, C. neoformans experiences a drastic change in nutrient availability during host infection, ultimately disseminating to colonize the purine-poor central nervous system. Investigating the consequences of this challenge, we have characterized C. neoformans GMP synthase, the second enzyme in the guanylate branch of de novo purine biosynthesis. We show that in the absence of GMP synthase, C. neoformans becomes a guanine auxotroph, the production of key virulence factors is compromised, and the ability to infect nematodes and mice is abolished. Activity assays performed using recombinant protein unveiled differences in substrate binding between the C. neoformans and human enzymes, with structural insights into these kinetic differences acquired via homology modelling. Collectively, these data highlight the potential of GMP synthase to be exploited in the development of new therapeutic agents for the treatment of disseminated, life threatening fungal infections.