Qasim, Mohammad N, Ashley Valle Arevalo, Clarissa J Nobile, and Aaron D Hernday. 2021. “The Roles of Chromatin Accessibility in Regulating the Candida albicans White-Opaque Phenotypic Switch”. J Fungi (Basel) 7 (1).
Candida albicans, a diploid polymorphic fungus, has evolved a unique heritable epigenetic program that enables reversible phenotypic switching between two cell types, referred to as "white" and "opaque". These cell types are established and maintained by distinct transcriptional programs that lead to differences in metabolic preferences, mating competencies, cellular morphologies, responses to environmental signals, interactions with the host innate immune system, and expression of approximately 20% of genes in the genome. Transcription factors (defined as sequence specific DNA-binding proteins) that regulate the establishment and heritable maintenance of the white and opaque cell types have been a primary focus of investigation in the field; however, other factors that impact chromatin accessibility, such as histone modifying enzymes, chromatin remodelers, and histone chaperone complexes, also modulate the dynamics of the white-opaque switch and have been much less studied to date. Overall, the white-opaque switch represents an attractive and relatively "simple" model system for understanding the logic and regulatory mechanisms by which heritable cell fate decisions are determined in higher eukaryotes. Here we review recent discoveries on the roles of chromatin accessibility in regulating the C. albicans white-opaque phenotypic switch.


Rodriguez, Diana L, Morgan M Quail, Aaron D Hernday, and Clarissa J Nobile. (2020) 2020. “Transcriptional Circuits Regulating Developmental Processes in Candida albicans”. Front Cell Infect Microbiol 10: 605711.
Candida albicans is a commensal member of the human microbiota that colonizes multiple niches in the body including the skin, oral cavity, and gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts of healthy individuals. It is also the most common human fungal pathogen isolated from patients in clinical settings. C. albicans can cause a number of superficial and invasive infections, especially in immunocompromised individuals. The ability of C. albicans to succeed as both a commensal and a pathogen, and to thrive in a wide range of environmental niches within the host, requires sophisticated transcriptional regulatory programs that can integrate and respond to host specific environmental signals. Identifying and characterizing the transcriptional regulatory networks that control important developmental processes in C. albicans will shed new light on the strategies used by C. albicans to colonize and infect its host. Here, we discuss the transcriptional regulatory circuits controlling three major developmental processes in C. albicans: biofilm formation, the white-opaque phenotypic switch, and the commensal-pathogen transition. Each of these three circuits are tightly knit and, through our analyses, we show that they are integrated together by extensive regulatory crosstalk between the core regulators that comprise each circuit.
Villa, Sonia, Mohammad Hamideh, Anthony Weinstock, Mohammad N Qasim, Tony R Hazbun, Adnane Sellam, Aaron D Hernday, and Shankar Thangamani. 2020. “Transcriptional control of hyphal morphogenesis in Candida albicans”. FEMS Yeast Res 20 (1).
Candida albicans is a multimorphic commensal organism and opportunistic fungal pathogen in humans. A morphological switch between unicellular budding yeast and multicellular filamentous hyphal growth forms plays a vital role in the virulence of C. albicans, and this transition is regulated in response to a range of environmental cues that are encountered in distinct host niches. Many unique transcription factors contribute to the transcriptional regulatory network that integrates these distinct environmental cues and determines which phenotypic state will be expressed. These hyphal morphogenesis regulators have been extensively investigated, and represent an increasingly important focus of study, due to their central role in controlling a key C. albicans virulence attribute. This review provides a succinct summary of the transcriptional regulatory factors and environmental signals that control hyphal morphogenesis in C. albicans.
Frazer, Corey, Mae I Staples, Yoori Kim, Matthew Hirakawa, Maureen A Dowell, Nicole Johnson V, Aaron D Hernday, et al. 2020. “Epigenetic cell fate in Candida albicans is controlled by transcription factor condensates acting at super-enhancer-like elements”. Nat Microbiol 5 (11): 1374-89.
Cell identity in eukaryotes is controlled by transcriptional regulatory networks that define cell-type-specific gene expression. In the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans, transcriptional regulatory networks regulate epigenetic switching between two alternative cell states, ’white’ and ’opaque’, that exhibit distinct host interactions. In the present study, we reveal that the transcription factors (TFs) regulating cell identity contain prion-like domains (PrLDs) that enable liquid-liquid demixing and the formation of phase-separated condensates. Multiple white-opaque TFs can co-assemble into complex condensates as observed on single DNA molecules. Moreover, heterotypic interactions between PrLDs support the assembly of multifactorial condensates at a synthetic locus within live eukaryotic cells. Mutation of the Wor1 TF revealed that substitution of acidic residues in the PrLD blocked its ability to phase separate and co-recruit other TFs in live cells, as well as its function in C. albicans cell fate determination. Together, these studies reveal that PrLDs support the assembly of TF complexes that control fungal cell identity and highlight parallels with the ’super-enhancers’ that regulate mammalian cell fate.


Frazer, Corey, Aaron D Hernday, and Richard J Bennett. 2019. “Monitoring Phenotypic Switching in Candida albicans and the Use of Next-Gen Fluorescence Reporters”. Curr Protoc Microbiol 53 (1): e76.
Candida albicans is an opportunistic human fungal pathogen that is able to cause both mucosal and systemic infections. It is also a frequent human commensal, where it is typically found inhabiting multiple niches including the gastrointestinal tract. One of the most remarkable features of C. albicans biology is its ability to undergo heritable and reversible switching between different phenotypic states, a phenomenon known as phenotypic switching. This is best exemplified by the white-opaque switch, in which cells undergo epigenetic transitions between two alternative cellular states. Here, we describe assays to quantify the frequency of switching between states, as well as methods to help identify cells in different phenotypic states. We also describe the use of environmental cues that can induce switching into either the white or opaque state. Finally, we introduce the use of mNeonGreen and mScarlet fluorescent proteins that have been optimized for use in C. albicans and which outperform commonly used fluorescent proteins for both fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. © 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Walter, Jessica M, Max G Schubert, Stephanie H Kung, Kristy Hawkins, Darren M Platt, Aaron D Hernday, Tina Mahatdejkul-Meadows, et al. (2019) 2019. “Method for Multiplexed Integration of Synergistic Alleles and Metabolic Pathways in Yeasts via CRISPR-Cas9”. Methods Mol Biol 2049: 39-72.
CRISPR-Cas has proven to be a powerful tool for precision genetic engineering in a variety of difficult genetic systems. In the highly tractable yeast S. cerevisiae, CRISPR-Cas can be used to conduct multiple engineering steps in parallel, allowing for engineering of complex metabolic pathways at multiple genomic loci in as little as 1 week. In addition, CRISPR-Cas can be used to consolidate multiple causal alleles into a single strain, bypassing the laborious traditional methods using marked constructs, or mating. These tools compress the engineering timeline sixfold or more, greatly increasing the productivity of the strain engineer.


Giosa, Domenico, Maria Rosa Felice, Travis J Lawrence, Megha Gulati, Fabio Scordino, Letterio Giuffrè, Carla Lo Passo, et al. 2017. “Whole RNA-Sequencing and Transcriptome Assembly of Candida albicans and Candida africana under Chlamydospore-Inducing Conditions”. Genome Biol Evol 9 (7): 1971-77.
Candida albicans is the most common cause of life-threatening fungal infections in humans, especially in immunocompromised individuals. Crucial to its success as an opportunistic pathogen is the considerable dynamism of its genome, which readily undergoes genetic changes generating new phenotypes and shaping the evolution of new strains. Candida africana is an intriguing C. albicans biovariant strain that exhibits remarkable genetic and phenotypic differences when compared with standard C. albicans isolates. Candida africana is well-known for its low degree of virulence compared with C. albicans and for its inability to produce chlamydospores that C. albicans, characteristically, produces under certain environmental conditions. Chlamydospores are large, spherical structures, whose biological function is still unknown. For this reason, we have sequenced, assembled, and annotated the whole transcriptomes obtained from an efficient C. albicans chlamydospore-producing clinical strain (GE1), compared with the natural chlamydospore-negative C. africana clinical strain (CBS 11016). The transcriptomes of both C. albicans (GE1) and C. africana (CBS 11016) clinical strains, grown under chlamydospore-inducing conditions, were sequenced and assembled into 7,442 (GE1 strain) and 8,370 (CBS 11016 strain) high quality transcripts, respectively. The release of the first assembly of the C. africana transcriptome will allow future comparative studies to better understand the biology and evolution of this important human fungal pathogen.
Nguyen, Namkha, Morgan M F Quail, and Aaron D Hernday. 2017. “An Efficient, Rapid, and Recyclable System for CRISPR-Mediated Genome Editing in Candida albicans”. MSphere 2 (2).
Candida albicans is the most common fungal pathogen of humans. Historically, molecular genetic analysis of this important pathogen has been hampered by the lack of stable plasmids or meiotic cell division, limited selectable markers, and inefficient methods for generating gene knockouts. The recent development of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat(s) (CRISPR)-based tools for use with C. albicans has opened the door to more efficient genome editing; however, previously reported systems have specific limitations. We report the development of an optimized CRISPR-based genome editing system for use with C. albicans. Our system is highly efficient, does not require molecular cloning, does not leave permanent markers in the genome, and supports rapid, precise genome editing in C. albicans. We also demonstrate the utility of our system for generating two independent homozygous gene knockouts in a single transformation and present a method for generating homozygous wild-type gene addbacks at the native locus. Furthermore, each step of our protocol is compatible with high-throughput strain engineering approaches, thus opening the door to the generation of a complete C. albicans gene knockout library. IMPORTANCECandida albicans is the major fungal pathogen of humans and is the subject of intense biomedical and discovery research. Until recently, the pace of research in this field has been hampered by the lack of efficient methods for genome editing. We report the development of a highly efficient and flexible genome editing system for use with C. albicans. This system improves upon previously published C. albicans CRISPR systems and enables rapid, precise genome editing without the use of permanent markers. This new tool kit promises to expedite the pace of research on this important fungal pathogen.