Cryptococcal meningoencephalitis, the most common form of cryptococcosis, is caused by the opportunistic fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans. Molecular strategies used by C. neoformans to invade the central nervous system (CNS) have been the focus of several studies. Recently, the role of a novel secreted metalloprotease (Mpr1) in the pathogenicity of C. neoformans was confirmed by studies demonstrating that Mpr1 mediated the migration of fungal cells into the CNS. Given this central function, the aim here was to identify the molecular determinants of Mpr1 activity and resolve their role in the migration of cryptococci across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The Mpr1 protein belongs to an understudied group of metalloproteases of the M36 class of fungalysins unique to fungi. They are generally synthesized as propeptides with fairly long prodomains and highly conserved regions within their catalytic core. Through structure-function analysis of Mpr1, our study identified the prodomain cleavage sites of Mpr1 and demonstrated that when mutated, the prodomain appears to remain attached to the catalytic C-terminus of Mpr1 rendering a nonfunctional Mpr1 protein and an inability for cryptococci to cross the BBB. We found that proteolytic activity of Mpr1 was dependent on the coordination of zinc with two histidine residues in the active site of Mpr1, since amino acid substitutions in the HExxH motif abolished Mpr1 proteolytic activity and prevented the migration of cryptococci across the BBB. A phylogenetic analysis of Mpr1 revealed a distinct pattern likely reflecting the neurotropic nature of C. neoformans and the specific function of Mpr1 in breaching the BBB. This study contributes to a deeper understanding of the molecular regulation of Mpr1 activity and may lead to the development of specific inhibitors that could be used to restrict fungal penetration of the CNS and thus prevent cryptococcal meningoencephalitis-related deaths.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)