Maintenance of cation homeostasis is essential for survival of all living organisms in their biological niches. It is also important for the survival of human pathogenic fungi in the host, where cation concentrations and pH will vary depending on different anatomical sites. However, the exact role of diverse cation transporters and ion channels in virulence of fungal pathogens remains elusive. In this study we functionally characterized ENA1 and NHA1, encoding a putative Na +/ATPase and Na +/H + antiporter, respectively, in Cryptococcus neoformans, a basidiomycete fungal pathogen which causes fatal meningoencephalitis. Expression of NHA1 and ENA1 is induced in response to salt and osmotic shock mainly in a Hog1-dependent manner. Phenotypic analysis of the ena1Δ, nha1Δ, and ena1Δnha1Δ mutants revealed that Ena1 controls cellular levels of toxic cations, such as Na + and Li + whereas both Ena1 and Nha1 are important for controlling less toxic K + ions. Under alkaline conditions, Ena1 was highly induced and required for growth in the presence of low levels of Na + or K + salt and Nha1 played a role in survival under K + stress. In contrast, Nha1, but not Ena1, was essential for survival at acidic conditions (pH 4.5) under high K + stress. In addition, Ena1 and Nha1 were required for maintenance of plasma membrane potential and stability, which appeared to modulate antifungal drug susceptibility. Perturbation of ENA1 and NHA1 enhanced capsule production and melanin synthesis. However, Nha1 was dispensable for virulence of C. neoformans although Ena1 was essential. In conclusion, Ena1 and Nha1 play redundant and discrete roles in cation homeostasis, pH regulation, membrane potential, and virulence in C. neoformans, suggesting that these transporters could be novel antifungal drug targets for treatment of cryptococcosis.
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