Background: Aspergillus fumigatus produces a number of secondary metabolites, one of which, gliotoxin, has been shown to exhibit anti-fungal activity. Thus, A. fumigatus must be able to protect itself against gliotoxin. Indeed one of the genes in the gliotoxin biosynthetic gene cluster in A. fumigatus, gliT, is required for self-protection against the toxin-however the global self-protection mechanism deployed is unclear. RNA-seq was employed to identify genes differentially regulated upon exposure to gliotoxin in A. fumigatus wild-type and A. fumigatus Delta gliT, a strain that is hypersensitive to gliotoxin.
Results: Deletion of A. fumigatus gliT resulted in altered expression of 208 genes (log(2) fold change of 1.5) when compared to A. fumigatus wild-type, of which 175 genes were up-regulated and 33 genes were down-regulated. Expression of 164 genes was differentially regulated (log2 fold change of 1.5) in A. fumigatus wild-type when exposed to gliotoxin, consisting of 101 genes with up-regulated expression and 63 genes with down-regulated expression. Interestingly, a much larger number of genes, 1700, were found to be differentially regulated (log2 fold change of 1.5) in A. fumigatus Delta gliT when challenged with gliotoxin. These consisted of 508 genes with up-regulated expression, and 1192 genes with down-regulated expression. Functional Catalogue (FunCat) classification of differentially regulated genes revealed an enrichment of genes involved in both primary metabolic functions and secondary metabolism. Specifically, genes involved in gliotoxin biosynthesis, helvolic acid biosynthesis, siderophore-iron transport genes and also nitrogen metabolism genes and ribosome biogenesis genes underwent altered expression. It was confirmed that gliotoxin biosynthesis is induced upon exposure to exogenous gliotoxin, production of unrelated secondary metabolites is attenuated in A. fumigatus Delta gliT, while quantitative proteomic analysis confirmed disrupted translation in A. fumigatus Delta gliT challenged with exogenous gliotoxin.
Conclusions: This study presents the first global investigation of the transcriptional response to exogenous gliotoxin in A. fumigatus wild-type and the hyper-sensitive strain, Delta gliT. Our data highlight the global and extensive affects of exogenous gliotoxin on a sensitive strain devoid of a self-protection mechanism and infer that GliT functionality is required for the optimal biosynthesis of selected secondary metabolites in A. fumigatus.