Living organisms are constantly exposed to DNA damage stress caused by endogenous and exogenous events. Eukaryotic cells have evolutionarily conserved DNA damage checkpoint surveillance systems. We previously reported that a unique transcription factor, Bdr1, whose expression is strongly induced by the protein kinase Rad53 governs DNA damage responses by controlling the expression of DNA repair genes in the basidiomycetous fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. However, the regulatory mechanism of the Rad53-dependent DNA damage signal cascade and its function in pathogenicity remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate that Rad53 is required for DNA damage response and is phosphorylated by two phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)-like kinases, Tel1 and Mec1, in response to DNA damage stress. Transcriptome analysis revealed that Rad53 regulates the expression of several DNA repair genes in response to gamma radiation. We found that expression of CHK1, another effector kinase involved in the DNA damage response, is regulated by Rad53 and that CHK1 deletion rendered cells highly susceptible to DNA damage stress. Nevertheless, BDR1 expression is regulated by Rad53, but not Chk1, indicating that DNA damage signal cascades mediated by Rad53 and Chk1 exhibit redundant and distinct functions. We found that perturbation of both RAD53 and CHK1 attenuated the virulence of C. neoformans, perhaps by promoting phagosome maturation within macrophage, reducing melanin production, and increasing susceptibility to oxidative stresses. Furthermore, deletion of both RAD53 and CHK1 increased susceptibility to certain antifungal drugs such as amphotericin B. This report provides insight into the regulatory mechanism of fungal DNA damage repair systems and their functional relationship with fungal virulence and antifungal drug susceptibility. IMPORTANCE Genome instability is detrimental for living things because it induces genetic disorder diseases and transfers incorrect genome information to descendants. Therefore, living organisms have evolutionarily conserved signaling networks to sense and repair DNA damage. However, how the DNA damage response pathway is regulated for maintaining the genome integrity of fungal pathogens and how this contributes to their pathogenicity remain elusive. In this study, we investigated the DNA damage response pathway in the basidiomycete pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, which causes life-threatening meningoencephalitis in immunocompro-mised individuals, with an average of 223,100 infections leading to 181,100 deaths reported annually. Here, we found that perturbation of Rad53-and Chk1-dependent DNA damage response pathways attenuated the virulence of C. neoformans and increased its susceptibility to certain antifungal drugs, such as amphotericin B and flucytosine. Therefore, our work paves the way to understanding the important role of human fungal DNA damage networks in pathogenesis and antifungal drug susceptibility.
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