In the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, the switch from yeast to hypha is an important morphological process preceding the meiotic events during sexual development. Morphotype is also known to be associated with cryptococcal virulence potential. Previous studies identified the regulator Znf2 as a key decision maker for hypha formation and as an anti-virulence factor.
By a forward genetic screen, researchers at Texas A&M University discovered that a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) RZE1 functions upstream of ZNF2 in regulating yeast-to-hypha transition. They demonstrate that RZE1 functions primarily in cis and less effectively in trans. Interestingly, RZE1’s function is restricted to its native nucleus. Accordingly, RZE1 does not appear to directly affect Znf2 translation or the subcellular localization of Znf2 protein. Transcriptome analysis indicates that the loss of RZE1 reduces the transcript level of ZNF2 and Znf2’s prominent downstream targets. In addition, microscopic examination using single molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization (smFISH) indicates that the loss of RZE1 increases the ratio of ZNF2 transcripts in the nucleus versus those in the cytoplasm.
Working model for RZE1’s nuclear function in Cryptococcus.
Taken together, this lncRNA controls Cryptococcus yeast-to-hypha transition through regulating the key morphogenesis regulator Znf2. This is the first functional characterization of a lncRNA in a human fungal pathogen. Given the potential large number of lncRNAs in the genomes of Cryptococcus and other fungal pathogens, the findings implicate lncRNAs as an additional layer of genetic regulation during fungal development that may well contribute to the complexity in these “simple” eukaryotes.
- Chacko N, Zhao Y, Yang E, Wang L, Cai JJ, Lin X (2015) The lncRNA RZE1 Controls Cryptococcal Morphological Transition. PLoS Genet 11(11): e1005692.[article]