The metabolic basis of Candida albicans morphogenesis and quorum sensing
, Richard D. Cannon
, Silas G. Villas-Bôas
Centre for Microbial Innovation, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, 3sA Symonds Street, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
Department of Oral Sciences, The University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Received 23 July 2009
Accepted 5 April 2011
Available online 12 April 2011
Central carbon metabolism
Amino acid biosynthesis
Candida albicans is a polymorphic fungus that has the ability to rapidly switch between yeast and ﬁla-
mentous forms. The morphological transition appears to be a critical virulence factor of this fungus.
Recent studies have elucidated the signal transduction pathways and quorum sensing molecules that
affect the morphological transition of C. albicans. The metabolic mechanisms that recognize, and respond
to, such signaling molecules and promote the morphological changes at a system level, however, remain
unknown. Here we review the metabolic basis of C. albicans morphogenesis and we discuss the role of
primary metabolic pathways and quorum sensing molecules in the morphogenetic process. We have
reconstructed, in silico, the central carbon metabolism and sterol biosynthesis of C. albicans based on
its genome sequence, highlighting the metabolic pathways associated with the dimorphic transition
and virulence as well as pathways involved in the biosynthesis of important quorum sensing molecules.
Ó2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction . . . ...................................................................................................... 748
2. Signaling pathways and transcriptional regulators associated with C. albicans morphogenesis . . . . . . . . . . ............................. 749
3. Quorum sensing molecules and C. albicans morphogenesis . . . ................................................................ 752
4. In silico reconstruction of the central carbon metabolism of C. albicans and the biosynthesis of quorum sensing molecules . . . . . .......... 754
4.1. Glycolysis. . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................. ............................................................ 754
4.2. Pentose phosphate pathway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .......... ............................................................... 754
4.3. Pyruvate dehydrogenase. ............................. ............................................................ 754
4.4. TCA cycle . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................................. ............................................ 754
4.5. Glyoxylate shunt . . . . . . . ................................................................... ...................... 754
4.6. Amino acid biosynthesis . ............................................. ............................................ 756
4.6.1. Glutamate biosynthesis . . . . . .............................................................................. 756
4.6.2. Aromatic amino acid and quorum sensing molecule biosynthesis . . . . . . . . . ........................................ 756
4.6.3. Regulation of global amino acid biosynthesis. . . . . . . ........................................................... 756
5. Central carbon metabolism, virulence, and morphogenesis of C. albicans ........................................................ 756
6. The effect of metabolic genes on the utilization of carbon sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................................. 757
7. In silico reconstruction of the sterol biosynthetic pathway and farnesol biosynthesis in C. albicans ................................... 757
8. The integration of quorum sensing and central carbon metabolism in C. albicans ................................................. 757
9. Final remarks . . ...................................................................................................... 758
References . . . . ...................................................................................................... 759
1087-1845/$ - see front matter Ó2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Fax: +64 9 373 7416.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (R.D. Cannon), email@example.com (S.G. Villas-Bôas).
Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
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Candida albicans is a human commensal fungus that can be iso-
lated from approximately 70% of the healthy population (Mavor
et al., 2005). In the majority of cases C. albicans is harmless, how-
ever, if the person is immunocompromised, it can be an opportu-
nistic pathogen (Wingard et al., 1979). C. albicans is the fourth
leading cause of nosocomial bloodstream infections (Pfaller and
Diekema, 2007), with an attributable mortality of 37–44% in se-
verely immunocompromised patients (Wisplinghoff et al., 2004;
Leroy et al., 2009; Moran et al., 2010).
C. albicans and other polymorphic fungi (e.g. Histoplasma capsu-
latum) have the remarkable ability to grow in several distinct mor-
phological forms: yeast, hyphae, and pseudohyphae, according to
environmental conditions (Bastidas and Heitman, 2009; Sudbery
et al., 2004). The true hyphae and pseudohyphae (chains of ellipti-
cal cells with constrictions at the septa) are often referred to as ﬁl-
amentous forms (Odds, 1988). The ability to switch rapidly from
yeast-to-ﬁlamentous growth or vice versa in response to certain
environmental cues is considered to be a critical virulence factor
for these fungi (Lo et al., 1997; Mitchell, 1998; Brown and Gow,
1999; Gow et al., 2002; Rooney and Klein, 2002; Nemecek et al.,
2006). In C. albicans, each morphology is believed to confer discrete
advantages in the course of infection. The yeast form is important
for dissemination through the bloodstream (Bendel et al., 2003; Sa-
ville et al., 2003), and adheres to endothelial surfaces (Grubb et al.,
2009). The ﬁlamentous forms, on the other hand, are more adapted
for invasion through the host epithelial tissue (Rooney and Klein,
2002), and also have a higher resistance to phagocytosis due to
their morphology. Indeed, an engulfed C. albicans yeast cell can de-
stroy a macrophage if ﬁlamentous growth is triggered after phago-
cytosis (Arai et al., 1977; Lorenz et al., 2004), and ﬁlamentous
forms have a higher resistance to neutrophil killing (Smail et al.,
1992; Fradin et al., 2005). Moreover, experimental studies support
the hypothesis that the morphological transition is an essential vir-
ulence factor for C. albicans. For instance, a reduced mortality rate
has been reported in animal infection models for mice inoculated
with C. albicans mutants unable to undergo the yeast-to-ﬁlamen-
tous transition (Lo et al., 1997; Gale et al., 1998). In addition, the
induction of hyphal gene expression promoted virulence in a
mouse model of systemic candidiasis (Carlisle et al., 2009).
The morphogenesis of C. albicans is predominately determined
by environmental signaling. The yeast-to-ﬁlamentous transition
can be triggered by serum, proline, N-acetylglucosamine, different
carbon sources, and other cues as summarized in Table 1. However,
there is a lack of understanding about how C. albicans regulates its
morphogenesis in response to these environmental changes. In
addition, the synchronised morphogenesis of C. albicans cells, and
other dimorphic fungi, seems to be coordinated within the cell
population by chemical signals (Chen and Fink, 2006; Hogan,
2006a,b; Nickerson et al., 2006;Chen et al., 2007). Dimorphic fungi
are known to produce several signaling metabolites. Farnesol,
which suppresses ﬁlamentous formation in C. albicans, is the best
characterized of these molecules (Hornby et al., 2001), but the
mechanism by which farnesol is sensed by C. albicans is not yet
clear. Tyrosol is another signaling molecule produced by C. albicans
and it stimulates the yeast-to-hypha conversion (Chen et al., 2004).
Other metabolites such as estradiol (mammalian metabolite) and
The effect of environmental cues on the morphogenesis of C. albicans.
Environmental cues Effect on morphogenesis References
25 °C or lower "Yeast formation Lee and Mitchell (1979)
37 °C or higher "Pseudohypha formation (maintains the yeast form at pH
Lee and Mitchell (1979) and Lee et al. (1999)
5–15% CO2 "Predominantely pseudohypha formation Bahn and Mühlschlegel (2006), Klengel et al. (2005), Mock et al.
(1990) and Sims (1986)
"Hypha formation Brown et al. (1999)
;Hypha formation (absence of other divalent ions) Holmes et al. (1991) and Sabie and Gadd (1989)
"Hypha formation (in presence of Mg
-glucose "Hypha formation (at 37 °C and pH 7–8) Hrmova and Drobnica (1981), Hudson et al. (2004) and Vidotto et al.
0.2% of glucose, galactose,
fructose or sucrose
"Hypha formation Maidan et al. (2005b)
Fructose "Hypha formation (in the absence of nitrogen source) Vidotto et al. (1996b)
Lee’s medium "Hypha formation (at 37 °C) Lee et al. (1975)
;Hypha formation (at 25 °C)
Lithium ;Hypha formation (except in liquid culture and requires
at least 15 mM LiCl)
Martins et al. (2008)
Low ammonia medium "Hypha formation (at pH 6.7) Eisman et al. (2006) and Holmes and Shepherd (1987)
N-acetylglucosamine "Hypha formation (inhibited when pH < 4.5) Holmes and Shepherd (1987) and Sullivan and Shepherd (1982)
pH 4.5 (acid pH) "Yeast formation (in the presence of glucose) Lee and Mitchell (1979) and Pollack and Hashimoto (1987)
pH 6–8 "Pseudohypha formation (but maintains the yeast form
at 25 °C)
Lee and Mitchell (1979) and Pollack and Hashimoto (1987)
Proline "Hypha formation (not observed when pH < 5.0) Dabrowa et al. (1976) and Holmes and Shepherd (1987)
Serum "Hypha formation Hilmioglu et al. (2007) and Reynolds and Braude (1956)
Spider medium "Hypha formation Liu et al. (1994) and Toenjes et al. (2005)
3-oxo-C12-homoserine lactone ;Hypha formation Hogan et al. (2004)
Dodecanol ;Hypha formation Hogan et al. (2004)
Human blood without white
"Hypha formation Fradin et al. (2005)
Phagocytosis or surrounded by
;Hypha formation Barelle et al. (2006), Fradin et al. (2005) and Rubin-Bejerano et al.
Phagocytosis by macrophages "Hypha formation Barelle et al. (2006), Fradin et al. (2005), Lorenz et al. (2004) and
Rubin-Bejerano et al. (2003)
Parenteral lipid emulsion "Germ tube formation Swindell et al. (2009)
Note:": inducing, ;: suppressing
748 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
dibutyryl cAMP are also known to affect C. albicans morphogenesis
(Niimi et al., 1980; White and Larsen, 1997; Cheng et al., 2006). De-
spite many studies showing the effect of small molecules on fungal
morphogenesis, the pathways that recognize such signals and their
effect on virulence are poorly characterized. Thus, this article re-
views our current knowledge of C. albicans morphogenesis from a
metabolic point of view and relates it to the activity of central car-
bon metabolism and the biosynthesis of quorum sensing
2. Signaling pathways and transcriptional regulators associated
with C. albicans morphogenesis
In the last 10 years, the use of gene knockout mutagenesis and
transcriptional studies have revealed signaling pathways, tran-
scriptional factors, as well as other regulatory components that
collectively drive the yeast-to-hyphal transition, or its reversion
(Gow, 2009). The roles of signaling pathways and transcriptional
regulators on C. albicans morphogenesis have been discussed in
many review articles (Alonso-Monge et al., 2009b; Bahn et al.,
2007; Biswas et al., 2007; Brown and Gow, 1999; Dhillon et al.,
2003; Enrst, 2000; Hogan and Sundstrom, 2009; Lengeler et al.,
2000; Liu, 2001, 2002; Navarro-García et al., 2001; Román et al.,
2007; Wang, 2009). An important class of proteins involved early
in signaling pathways is the GTPase superfamily. These G-proteins
bind and hydrolyse guanosine triphosphate (GTP) in response to
certain environmental stimuli (e.g. glucose, proline, pH, nitrogen
deﬁciency, serum, and oxidative stress), and regulate downstream
signal transduction. In C. albicans, the GTPases that regulate mor-
phogenesis include G-protein-coupled receptor Gpr1p (Maidan
et al., 2005), and the following members of the Ras superfamily:
Rho-type Cdc42p (Johnson, 1999); RHeb-type Rhb1p (Tsao et al.,
2009); and a small GTPase, Ras1p (Feng et al., 1999; Leberer
et al., 2001).
GTPases are thought to be the main regulators that activate the
two best-studied signaling pathways involved in C. albicans
morphogenesis: the cAMP-Protein Kinase A (PKA), and the
Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase (MAPK), pathways (Fig. 1). The cAMP-
PKA pathway involves adenylyl cyclase (Cdc35p) (Rocha et al.,
Fig. 1. Signal transduction pathways and transcriptional regulators that affect the ﬁlamentous growth of C. albicans and the effect of farnesol on some of these pathways. In
response to ﬁlamentous-inducing conditions, GTPases (Gpa2p, Ras1p, and Cdc42p) activate two well-characterized signaling pathways; the Cek1p mediated MAP kinase
pathway and cAMP-PKA pathway. These lead to the activation of transcriptional regulators Cph1p and Efg1p, respectively, which promote ﬁlamentous growth. Nitrogen
starvation activates both the MAP Kinase and cAMP-PKA pathways via ammonium permease (Mep2p). Adenylyl cyclase (Cdc35p) not only responds to Ras1p, it is also
activated in response to G-proteins (Gpr1p and Gpa2p), which are activated by glucose deﬁciency and the presence of methionine. Cdc35p also acts as a sensor for CO
peptidoglycans. Oxidative stress and osmotic stress are sensed by a two component system (Sln1p and Ssk1p), which in turn suppresses Hog1p MAP kinase pathways. At
37 °C, Pi4p5kp synthesizes phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP
) to promote the release of intracellular Ca
. The role of other individual genes are summarized in
Table 2. Quorum sensing molecule farnesol inhibits ﬁlamentous growth by suppressing the expression of RAS1, SHO1 HST7, CEK1, PDE2, and HWP1, while it upregulates
ﬁlamentous-suppressing genes such as TUP1 and HOG1. Blue boxes represent the membrane-anchored proteins, red boxes represent the transcriptional regulators, and the
purple box indicates DNA-binding proteins (Nrg1p, Mig1p, or Rfg1p). (For interpretation of the references to colour in this ﬁgure legend, the reader is referred to the web
version of this article.)
T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763 749
Genes involved in the morphogenesis of C. albicans.
Genes Gene functions Involvement in morphogenesis References
Signaling pathway genes
BCY1 The regulatory subunit of PKA "Hypha formation Cassola et al. (2004)
CAP1 Adenylate cyclase-associated protein "Hypha formation Bahn and Sundstrom (2001)
CDC42 Rho-type GTPase; a main regulator of cell polarity in fungi
with two forms; CDC42-GTP and CDC42-GDP. CDC42-GTP
activates CST20 and promotes septin ring formation
Only CDC42-GTP: "hypha formation Bassilana et al. (2003), Su et al. (2005) and
Court and Sudbery (2007)
CDC24 The GDP-GTP exchange factor for CDC42; promotes CDC42-
"Hypha formation Bassilana et al. (2003)
RGA2, BEM3 CDC42 GTPase-activating proteins; promotes CDC42-GDP
;Hypha formation Court and Sudbery (2007) and Wang
Adenylyl cyclase, a sensor that responds to CO
peptidoglycan (PGN)-like molecules
"Hypha formation Rocha et al. (2001) and Klengel et al.
"Pseudohypha formation Xu et al. (2008)
CDC53 Encodes cullin, part of ubiquitin-ligase complex SCF ;hypha formation Trunk et al. (2009)
CST20 MAPKK kinase of CEK1 pathway "Hypha formation Leberer et al. (1996)
MAPK kinase of CEK1 pathway "Hypha formation Leberer et al. (1996)
MAP kinase of CEK1 pathway; phosphorlyation is prevented
"Hypha formation Csank et al. (1998) and Román et al.
CPP1 Cek1p phosphatase, Inactivates the Cek1p ;Hypha formation Csank et al. (1997)
Cdc2-related kinase, suppressed by farnesol "Hypha formation Chen et al. (2000) and Sato et al. (2004)
GPA2 A G-protein
subunit "Hypha formation Sa
´nez and Pe
(2002) and Maidan et al. (2005)
MKC1 MAPK kinase; maintains cell wall integrity "Hypha formation Navarro-García et al. (1998)
YPD1 A phosphohistidine intermediate protein that transfers a
phosphate from Sln1p to Ssk1p
Expressed in both yeast and hyphal forms Payne et al. (2000)
SSK1 Response regulator of two component system; suppresses
HOG1-mediated MAPK pathways and it is associated with cell
wall synthesis and oxidative-stress response
"Hypha formation Calera et al. (2000) and Menon et al.
SSK2 MAPKK Kinase of HOG1 pathway ;Hypha formation Cheetham et al. (2007)
PBS2 MAPK Kinase of HOG1 pathway, essential for oxidative-stress
;Hypha formation Arana et al. (2005)
High osmolarity glycerol MAP kinase; responds to osmotic
stress, temperature upshift, oxidative stress. Represses the
activity of CEK1, regulates respiratory metabolism, and
upregulated by farnesol
;Hypha formation José et al. (1996) and Eisman et al. (2006)
Alonso-Monge et al. (2003), Smith et al.
(2004) and Alonso-Monge et al. (2009a)
Phosphodiesterase, suppressed by farnesol "Hypha formation Bahn et al. (2003) and Sato et al. (2004)
"Pseudohypha formation Smith et al. (2004)
PI4P5 K phosphatidylinositol-4 phosphate 5-kinase; synthesizes
phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2) in response to
"Hypha formation Hairﬁeld et al. (2002)
RAD53 The kinase involved in mediating DNA damaged–induced
"Hypha formation Shi et al. (2007)
A member of the GTPase superfamily; responds to nitrogen
starvation, glucose and serum. Suppressed by farnesol
"Hypha formation Feng et al. (1999)
CDC25 RAS1 guanine exchange factor; responds to glucose and
induces cAMP signaling pathway
"Hypha formation Enloe et al. (2000)
RHB1 Rheb of Ras superfamily, involves in the nitrogen starvation
inducing ﬁlamentous growth
;Hypha formation Tsao et al. (2009)
TSC2 Homolog of human tuberous sclerosis protein 2, negatively
regulates the GTPase activity of RHB1
"hypha formation Tsao et al. (2009)
SHO1 An adaptor protein that responds to oxidative stress and cell
wall biosynthesis, It activates CEK1 Kinase pathway.
"Hypha formation Roma
´n et al. (2005)
TPK1 The catalytic subunit of PKA "Hypha formation Cloutier et al. (2003)
TPK2 The catalytic subunit of PKA "Hypha formation Cloutier et al. (2003)
YAK1 Ser/Thr protein kinase; Upstream of Tup1p "Hypha formation Goyard et al. (2008)
Transcription factor genes
CPH1 Transcription factor that is activated by MAPK pathway;
responds to starvation and
"Hypha formation Lo et al. (1997)
GlcNAc "Pseudohypha formation
CZF1 Putative zinc ﬁnger transcription factor; responds to agar-
embedded growth conditions
"Hypha formation Brown et al. (1999)
EFG1 Transcription factor that is activated by PKA pathway;
responds to serum, upregulates glycolysis and downregulates
"Hypha formation Stoldt et al. (1997) and Leng et al. (2001)
TEC1 A transcription factor - member of the TEA/ATTS family;
regulated by EFG1
"Hypha formation Schweizer et al. (2000) and Lane et al.
A general transcriptional repressor; regulates glycolysis and
TCA cycle. Upregulated by farnesol
;Hypha formation Braun and Johnson (1997), Cao et al.
(2005) and Kebaara et al. (2008)
SSN6 A general transcriptional repressor forms a complex with
;Pseudohypha formation Hwang et al. (2003)
MIG1 DNA-binding protein (DBP) binds to TUP1 ;Hypha formation Murad et al. (2001)
NRG1 DBP binds to TUP1 ;Hypha formation Braun et al. (2001) and Murad et al. (2001)
750 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
Table 2 (continued)
Genes Gene functions Involvement in morphogenesis References
RFG1 Repressor for ﬁlamentous growth; DBP binds to TUP1 ;Hypha formation Kadosh and Johnson (2001) and Khalaf
and Zitomer (2001)
RIM101 pH-response regulator, activated by alkaline conditions and
regulates both PHR1 and PHR2. It is required for ARO9 pH
dependent expression and required for virulence during
"Hypha formation Ramon et al. (1999) and Nobile et al.
RGT1 A transcriptional repressor for genes that encode hexose
transporters, N-acetylglucosamine transporter (NGT1), and
;Hypha formation Sexton et al. (2007)
GCN4 General amino acid control; regulates both morphogenesis
and metabolic responses to amino acid starvation
"Hypha formation Tripathi et al. (2002)
UME6 A transcriptional regulator; encodes zinc ﬁnger DNA-binding
"Hypha formation Strich et al. (1994) and Banerjee et al.
CDR1, CDR2 Multidrug transporters of the ABC family: an efﬂux pump
that removes estradiol from the cell
"Germ tube is formed in the present of
Cheng et al. (2006)
GAP1 General amino acid permease; the expression of transporter
is induced by GlcNAc and Cph1p.
"Hypha formation Biswas et al. (2003)
HGT4 Glucose and galactose sensor "Hypha formation Brown et al. (2006) and Brown et al.
GPR1 G-protein-coupled receptor; upstream of cAMP-PKA
pathway, senses methionine and proline
"Hypha formation Maidan et al. (2005) and Maidan et al.
HGT4 Glucose sensor; induces the expression of hexose
transporters (e.g. HGT12,HXT12 and HGT7)
;Hypha formation Brown et al. (2006)
Histidine kinase of two component system; SLN1 is the
upstream components of Hog1-mediated MAPK pathway.
The CHK1 mutant overcomes the hyphal-suppressing effect
"Hypha formation Nagahashi et al. (1998) and Calera and
Calderone (1999), Yamada-Okabe et al.
(1999) and Kruppa et al. (2004)
NGT1 N-acetylglucosamine transporter In a homozygous NGT1 deletant, hyphal
growth cannot be induced by GlcNAc
Alvarez and Konopka (2007)
MEP2 Ammonium permease; senses nitrogen starvation.
Expression is suppressed by: 10 mM of NH
of RHB1, and TSC2 deletion. It activates both MAP kinase
pathway and cAMP-PKA pathway
"Pseudohypha formation Biswas and Morschhäuser (2005) and Tsao
et al. (2009)
-arabinono-1,4-lactone oxidase; catalyzies the last step of
D-erythroascorbic acid biosynthesis
"Hypha formation Huh et al. (2001)
ATC1 Cell wall-linked acid trehalase, converts exogenous galactose
"Hypha formation Pedreño et al. (2007)
GAL10 UDP-galactose-4-epimerase; converts galactose into glucose ;Hypha formation Singh et al. (2007)
PDX1 Pyruvate dehydrogenase "Hypha formation Vellucci et al. (2007)
TSP1 Trehalose-6-phosphate synthase; involved in trehalose
"Hypha formation Zaragoza et al. (1998)
Cell wall genes
ALS1 Adhesin; hypha speciﬁc gene "Hypha formation Fu et al. (2002)
Cell wall protein; hyphal-speciﬁc gene, involved in cellular
adhesion during bioﬁlm formation, and suppressed by
"Hypha formation Sharkey et al. (1999) and Ramage et al.
(2002), Enjalbert and Whiteway (2005)
and Padovan et al. (2009)
INT1 Integrin-like, role in adhesion "Hypha formation Gale et al. (1998) and Asleson et al. (2001)
PHR1 GPI-anchored glycosidase; cell wall structure, expressed at
pH 5.5 or alkaline pH
"Hypha formation Ghannoum et al. (1995) and De Bernardis
et al. (1998)
PHR2 GPI-anchored glycosidase; cell wall structure, expressed at
"Hypha formation Mühlschlegel and Fonzi (1997) and De
Bernardis et al. (1998)
PMT1 Mannosyltransferase "Hypha formation Timpel et al. (1998)
PMT6 Mannosyltransferase, role in adhesion and antifungal
"Hypha formation Timpel et al. (2000)
Cell cycle-associated genes
CDC28 Cyclin-dependent kinase; phosphorylates Cdc11 p(septin
gene) in association with either CCN1 or HGC1.CDC28-HGC1
negatively regulates RGA2 and also phosphorylates Efg1p
"Hypha formation Sinha et al. (2007) and Wang et al. (2009)
HGC1 Hyphal-speciﬁc G1 cyclin related protein; maintains the
localization of polarity proteins (e.g. actin) on hyphal tip,
regulated by cAMP-PKA pathway and Tup1p
"Hypha formation Zheng and Wang (2004)
cyclin; role in maintaining hyphal growth "Hypha formation Loeb et al. (1999)
(continued on next page)
T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763 751
2001) and PKA (Bcy1p, Tpk1p and Tpk2p) (Cassola et al., 2004;
Cloutier et al., 2003)(Table 2,Fig. 1). Eventually, the PKA pathway
activates an important transcription factor encoded by EFG1 (Stoldt
et al., 1997) that induces the expression of hyphal-speciﬁc genes
(e.g. HWP1,HYR1 and ALS1)(Fu et al., 2002; Leng et al., 2001; Shar-
key et al., 1999). MAPK pathways typically consist of three kinases;
MAPKKK, MAPKK, and MAPK that are sequentially activated one
after the other by phosphorylation. There are several different
MAPK pathways that have been described and linked to the mor-
phological changes of C. albicans (e.g. Cek1p, Hog1p, and Mkc1p
MAPK pathways) (Alonso-Monge et al., 2009b; Cheetham et al.,
2007; Csank et al., 1998; Eisman et al., 2006; Leberer et al., 1996,
2001; Navarro-García et al., 1998). Fig. 1 illustrates how these sig-
naling pathways and regulatory components are interconnected,
and Table 2 summarizes how these components lead to modiﬁca-
tions in cell wall organization, cell polarity, metabolism, cell cycle,
virulence factors, and morphogenesis. Furthermore, transcriptome
studies have identiﬁed several hyphal-suppressing genes in C. albi-
cans. These repressor genes, such as TUP1,SSN6,NRG1,MIG1, and
HOG1, are involved in the regulation of central carbon metabolism
(Braun and Johnson, 1997; Hwang et al., 2003; José et al., 1996;
Murad et al., 2001) as illustrated in Table 3. There are many other
genes that are known to be involved in the morphological switch of
C. albicans. The role of those genes and how they may inﬂuence, or
have their expression changed during, morphogenesis are brieﬂy
summarized in Table 2.
3. Quorum sensing molecules and C. albicans morphogenesis
The phenomenon of ‘‘quorum sensing’’ is being increasingly rec-
ognized as a fundamental aspect of microbial cell-to-cell commu-
nication and signaling. Fuqua et al. (1994) ﬁrst coined this term
to describe the cooperative behaviour of bacterial cells that can
only take place when a certain cell population density threshold
is reached. Quorum sensing is often referred to as autoinduction,
a process by which individual cells release small diffusible mole-
cules into their environment and these molecules are sensed by
all cells in the population (Gray et al., 1994; Hense et al., 2007;
Nealson, 1977). When high cell density is reached, these autoin-
ducing molecules accumulate above a certain threshold level, acti-
vating and/or repressing certain genes (Fuqua et al., 1994), which
in turn induce complex cellular behaviour such as secretion of
extracellular enzymes (Rosenberg et al., 1977), bioluminescence
(Eberhard, 1972; Eberhard et al., 1981; Fuqua et al., 1994), plasmid
transfer (Piper et al., 1993), antibiotic biosynthesis (Bainton et al.,
Table 2 (continued)
Genes Gene functions Involvement in morphogenesis References
cyclin; is important for yeast budding and negatively
regulates the yeast-to-hyphal transition
;Hypha formation Bachewich and Whiteway (2005) and Lazo
et al. (2005)
CLB2, CLB4 B-cyclins that are negative regulators of polarized growth ;Hypha formation Bensen et al. (2005)
CDC10, CDC11 Non-essential septin genes cdc10 and cdc11 mutants show abnormal
Warenda et al. (2003)
Note:": induction,;: suppression.
Observations are based on knockout mutagenesis studies.
The expression of these genes is regulated by farnesol.
The effect of morphogenesis-related genes, and farnesol, on Candida albicans metabolism based on DNA array studies or large-scale protein analyses
Metabolism of: EFG1 GCN4 HOG1 TUP1 MIG1 NRG1 RIM101 SSN6 NGT1 Farnesol
Ergosterol biosynthesis ;;
Glutamate ;";;; "pH8
Glycolysis "" " ;; ;
Glyoxylate shunt ;
Pentose phosphate "
TCA cycle ;";
Note:": gene/farnesol upregulates one or more enzymes in a particular biochemical pathway.
;: gene/farnesol downregulates one or more enzymes in a particular biochemical pathway ;
: assayed at pH 4, "
: assayed at pH 8.
752 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
1992), bioﬁlm development (Alem et al., 2006), and morphological
switches (Hornby et al., 2001). Despite quorum sensing being well-
characterized and evolutionarily-conserved between diverse bac-
terial species (Gray and Garey, 2001; Gray et al., 1994), only a
few quorum sensing like-responses have been reported in eukary-
otes, such as H. capsulatum (Kügler et al., 2000), C. albicans (Chen
et al., 2004; Hornby et al., 2001), and Saccharomyces cerevisiae
(Chen and Fink, 2006). Curiously, in each of these studies quorum
sensing was associated with the morphological switch from yeast-
to-ﬁlamentous forms, or vice versa.
Eukaryotic quorum sensing is best studied in C. albicans. This
fungus has the greatest number of quorum sensing molecules
(QSMs) identiﬁed to date. Tryptophol and phenylethyl alcohol
were the ﬁrst QSMs identiﬁed in C. albicans (Lingappa et al.,
1969). These QSMs are produced by C. albicans and inhibit both cell
growth and germ tube formation - whether the inhibition of germ
tube formation is due to the inhibition of growth remains unclear.
In recent years, three additional QSMs have been isolated from C.
albicans; farnesol, tyrosol and farnesoic acid (Chen et al., 2004;
Hornby et al., 2001; Hornby and Nickerson, 2004; Oh et al.,
2001), although farnesoic acid has only been reported in one C.
albicans strain (ATCC 10231, Oh et al., 2001) and has a lower activ-
ity than farnesol (Hornby and Nickerson, 2004).
Farnesol is the best characterized QSM in C. albicans and it is
known to block the yeast-to-ﬁlamentous transition at high cell
density, as well as under other hyphal-inducing conditions (e.g.
serum, proline, and N-acetylglucosamine) (Hornby et al., 2001);
but it is incapable of stopping the elongation of pre-existing hy-
phae (Mosel et al., 2005; Navarathna et al., 2005). Moreover, far-
nesol is continuously released into the environment during
growth, and its accumulation in the medium is roughly propor-
tional to the cell density (Hornby et al., 2001). It has been pro-
posed that farnesol is secreted by the cells to inhibit germ tube
formation in the late stage of bioﬁlm development where there
is a high density of interwoven ﬁlamentous cells, and, therefore,
it promotes the dispersal of yeast cells to colonize new environ-
ments (Alem et al., 2006). After farnesol was discovered in C. albi-
cans cultures, several studies have been undertaken to investigate
the mechanisms by which QSMs affect morphogenesis. For in-
stance, Sato et al. (2004) used RT-PCR to show that farnesol inhib-
ited MAP kinase cascades via the suppression of HST7 and CPH1
gene expression (Fig. 1). Hog1p phosphorylation also increased
in the presence of farnesol (Smith et al., 2004). Cao et al. (2005)
demonstrated that several morphogenesis-associated genes were
downregualted (e.g. CRK1 and PDE2) and some upregulated (e.g.
TUP1) by the presence of farnesol. It has been suggested that hy-
phal formation induced by the cAMP-PKA pathway can be re-
pressed by farnesol which suppresses the RAS1-CDC35 pathway
(Davis-Hanna et al., 2008). Kebaara et al. (2008) showed that far-
nesol inhibits hyphal formation by upregulating the global repres-
sor of TUP1 because it failed to suppress hyphal development in
tup1/tup1 and nrg1/nrg1 null-mutants. Recently, Román et al.
(2009) showed that farnesol prevents the activation of Cek1p,
which is a part of the MAPK cascade. In summary, the studies
to date show that farnesol inhibits C. albicans morphogenesis by
suppressing both MAPK and cAMP-PKA pathways and promoting
the expression of hyphal-suppressor genes such as TUP1 and
HOG1 (Fig. 1). How yeast cells sense farnesol, however, is still
Tyrosol is another QSM produced by C. albicans. It has been ob-
served that when a dense culture of C. albicans is diluted into fresh
medium there is long lag-phase before exponential growth initi-
ates (Chen et al., 2004). This lag period can be shortened, and germ
tube formation can be enhanced, when tyrosol is supplied (Chen
et al., 2004). Alem et al. (2006) also suggested that tyrosol stimu-
lated hypha formation in the early and intermediate phases of C.
albicans bioﬁlm formation. It seems that tyrosol does not induce
germ tube formation when C. albicans grows under non-ﬁlamen-
tous-inducing conditions but rather accelerates the morphological
switch from yeast-to-hyphal growth under favourable environ-
mental conditions (Chen et al., 2004). In contrast to farnesol, little
is known about how tyrosol exerts its effects. A study of gene
expression proﬁles of C. albicans cells at different cell densities
with and without tyrosol suggested that the acceleration of germ
tube formation may simply be due to upregulation of genes asso-
ciated with DNA replication (e.g. DNA polymerase, chromosome-
separation factor) and the cell cycle (e.g. cell cycle checkpoint
protein) (Chen et al., 2004).
Together, these studies demonstrate that the morphogenesis of
C. albicans is under the positive and negative regulation of QSMs in
response to cell density. QSMs such as tryptophol, phenylethyl
alcohol, and farnesol suppress hyphal formation when cells grow
at high density. The QSM tyrosol accelerates germ tube formation
at low cell density (Fig. 2). QSMs appear to have other roles in
addition to affecting morphogenesis. Farnesol, for example, en-
hances C. albicans resistance to oxidative stress (Westwater
et al., 2005), and tyrosol can act as an antioxidant, protecting C.
albicans cells during phagocytosis by neutrophils (Cremer et al.,
1999). Moreover, when growing in the human body C. albicans of-
ten grows in a polymicrobial environment and QSMs appear to be
also involved in inter-species competition (Shank and Kolter,
2009). Farnesol not only inhibits ﬁlament formation in other Can-
dida species (e.g. Candida dubliniensis and Candida tropicalis)
(Henriques et al., 2007; Zibafar et al., 2009),it also induces apop-
tosis in some fungi (e.g. S. cerevisiae,Aspergillus nidulans, and Pen-
icillium expansum), and suppresses the growth of Paracoccidioides
brasiliensis (Derengowski et al., 2009; Fairn et al., 2007; Liu
et al., 2009; Semighini et al., 2006). In contrast, when C. albicans
is exposed to other QSMs such as 3-OXO-C12 homoserine lactone
from Pseudomonas aeruginosa, its ﬁlamentous growth is sup-
pressed (Hogan et al., 2004). Interestingly, farnesol seems to be
also involved in C. albicans-host interactions. Proteomic ap-
proaches have shown that farnesol triggers apoptosis in both hu-
man oral carcinoma cells and C. albicans itself via classic
apoptotic pathways (Scheper et al., 2008; Shirtliff et al., 2009). It
appears that C. albicans is more susceptible to farnesol-mediated
cell death when log-phase cells grow under nutrient-poor condi-
tions (Langford et al., 2010). Dècanis et al. (2009) demonstrated
that farnesol upregulates the expression of toll-like receptor 2,
and increases the production of interleukin-6 and b-defensin 2
in the engineered tissue of human oral mucosa. The same authors
suggest that farnesol promotes epithelial cell immunity against C.
albicans (Dècanis et al., 2009). Moreover, Ghosh et al. (2010)
showed that farneosl induces the expression of inﬂammatory
cytokines in the macrophage. Therefore, these studies clearly dem-
onstrate that QSMs play complex roles in C. albicans-host and C.
Fig. 2. The effect of quorum sensing molecules on the dimorphic transition of C.
albicans. Tyrosol accelerates hypha formation, while farnesol, tryptophol, and
phenylethyl alcohol suppress hypha development.
T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763 753
4. In silico reconstruction of the central carbon metabolism of C.
albicans and the biosynthesis of quorum sensing molecules
The central carbon metabolism of most organisms is highly con-
served comprising both catabolic and anabolic biochemical reac-
tions. Central carbon metabolism is indispensable for cellular
growth and any major cellular event, such as morphogenesis, will
certainly be accompanied by signiﬁcant changes in these important
pathways. Therefore, knowledge of the different biochemical path-
ways involved in the central carbon metabolism of C. albicans, as well
as how they are affected by the morphogenetic process, is crucial to
understand the mechanisms of morphogenesis in this fungus.
Mostof the genesthought toencode enzymesinvolved inthe cen-
tral carbon metabolism of C. albicans have been annotated by indi-
vidual in vitro studies and by high-throughput transcriptomics
(Bensen et al., 2004; Doedt et al., 2004; Enjalbert et al., 2006; Fradin
et al., 2005; García-Sánchez et al., 2004; García-Sánchez et al., 2005;
Harcus et al., 2004; Hromatka et al., 2005; Karababa et al., 2004; Lan
etal., 2004;Lorenz etal., 2004;Murad etal., 2001; Nantel et al., 2002;
Nett et al., 2009; Rogers and Barker, 2002; Sexton et al., 2007; Shirt-
liff et al., 2009; Singh et al., 2005; Swoboda et al., 1994; Tournu et al.,
2005) and proteomics studies (Cabezón et al., 2009; Ferna
Arenas et al., 2007; Hernández et al., 2004; Kusch et al., 2008; Pitarch
et al., 2004; Shirtliff et al., 2009; Thomas et al., 2006; Urban et al.,
2003; Yin et al., 2004). We have reconstructed in silico the central
carbon metabolism of C. albicans directly from its non-annotated
genome sequence available from GenBank,using a program called
IdentiCS (Sun and Zeng, 2004). Then the metabolic pathways were
curated based on three publicly available online-databases: the Can-
dida Genome Database – CGD (http://www.candidagenome.org/),
the Saccharomyces Genome Database – SGD (http://www.yeastge-
nome.org/), and the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes-
KEGG (http://www.genome.jp/kegg/)(Fig. 3).
Genes encoding all glycolytic enzymes in C. albicans have been
identiﬁed and are conserved across fungi. Although the mRNA
expression of glycolytic genes is not regulated tightly and ﬂuctuates
during the yeast-to-hyphal switch (Swoboda et al., 1994), some dif-
ferences in the activities of glycolytic enzymes have been correlated
with yeast and hyphal growth (Schwartz and Larsh, 1982). For in-
stance, the speciﬁc activity of hexokinases in the hyphal form is al-
most twice that in the yeast form (Schwartz and Larsh, 1982). This
might indicate a higher glycolytic ﬂux during hyphal growth. Several
glycolytic genes are regulated by signaling pathways associated
with morphogenesis. These include enzymes such as hexokinase II
(upregulated by Efg1p and downregulated by Ssn6p and Rgt1p)
(Doedt et al., 2004; García-Sánchez et al., 2005; Sexton et al.,
2007), phosphofructokinase (downregulated by Rgt1p) (Sexton
et al., 2007), glucose-6-phosphote isomerase (upregulated by Efg1p)
(Doedt et al., 2004), fructose–bisphosphate aldolase (upregulated by
Efg1p, Gcn4p, Hog1p) (Doedt et al., 2004; Enjalbert et al., 2006; Yin
et al., 2004), phosphoglycerate kinase (upregulated by Gcn4p and
Hog1p) (Enjalbert et al., 2006; Yin et al., 2004), and pyruvate kinase
(upregulated by Gcn4p and Hog1p) (Enjalbert et al., 2006; Yin et al.,
2004). In addition, Shirtliff et al. (2009) used a proteomic analysis to
demonstrate that several glycolytic enzymes (e.g. glyceraldehyde 3-
phosphate dehydrogenase, enolase, phosphoglycerate mutase and
pyruvate kinase) were downregulated when C. albicans was exposed
4.2. Pentose phosphate pathway
In anaerobic respiration, the pentose phosphate pathway is cou-
pled with glycolysis to generate both cytosolic NADPH and ribose.
The NADPH provides oxidizing energy for biosynthetic reactions
(e.g. synthesis of amino acids, fatty acids, and sugar alcohols) while
ribose is used in the biosynthesis of nucleotides (e.g. nucleic acids
and redox cofactors). The conversion of glucose 6-phosphate to
6-phosphogluconolactone by a NADP-dependent glucose 6-phos-
phate dehydrogenase (G6PDH) is the ﬁrst reaction, and the
key-regulatory step, in the pentose phosphate pathway. A putative
G6PDH is encoded by the ZWF1 gene in C. albicans and its expres-
sion is upregulated by Gcn2p and Gcn4p (Tournu et al., 2005).
4.3. Pyruvate dehydrogenase
In aerobic respiration, pyruvate produced by glycolysis and the
pentose phosphate pathway is mainly oxidatively decarboxylated
to acetyl-CoA by the pyruvate dehydrogenase multi-complex en-
zyme. This enzyme is highly conserved across species, and the C.
albicans genome contains genes with high homology to the S. cere-
visiae operon encoding all subunits of pyruvate dehydrogenase.
Disruption of one of the pyruvate dehydrogenase subunit genes
(PDX1)inC. albicans resulted in a deﬁciency in ﬁlamentous growth
(Vellucci et al., 2007). Thus the availability of acetyl-CoA may be
required for the morphogenesis of C. albicans.
4.4. TCA cycle
The tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle is a central hub of carbon
metabolism (Fig. 3) and, under aerobic conditions, acetyl-CoA
formed from pyruvate is oxidized completely to carbon dioxide,
water, and chemical energy through this pathway. This process is
catalyzed by a series of conserved enzymes. All genes involved in
the TCA cycle have been found in the C. albicans genome and all
the TCA cycle enzymes have been extracted from C. albicans cells
(Rao et al., 1962). Some TCA cycle enzymes are regulated by signal-
ing pathways. For example,
-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase, succi-
nate dehydrogenase, fumarase, citrate synthase, and malate
dehydrogenase are repressed by the Efg1p transcription factor
(Doedt et al., 2004), which appears to be involved in hyphal forma-
tion (Leng et al., 2001; Stoldt et al., 1997). Citrate synthase is
downregulated by Hog1p and cis-aconitase is upregulated by
Gcn4p (Enjalbert et al., 2006). The TCA cycle is, however, amphi-
bolic because the cycle not only catabolically decarboxylates pyru-
vate but it also has anabolic functions. Intermediate compounds of
the TCA cycle are used as precursors for the biosynthesis of build-
ing blocks for the cell (e.g. amino acids and lipids). Therefore, a
constant inﬂow of carbon to supply intermediate compounds for
amino acid and lipid biosynthesis is essential for cell growth. An
example of a metabolic strategy to maintain the supply of TCA cy-
cle intermediates is the glyoxylate shunt.
4.5. Glyoxylate shunt
The glyoxylate shunt assimilates two-carbon molecules such as
ethanol and acetate into the TCA cycle; this process not only sup-
plies TCA cycle substrates but also allows microbial growth in envi-
ronments where only two-carbon compounds are available. The
glyoxylate shunt can be considered as a shortcut version of the
TCA cycle. The cycle bypasses two decarboxylation steps and di-
rectly converts isocitrate to malate using two enzymes: isocitrate
lyase (encoded by ICL1) and malate synthase (encoded by MLS1)
(Fig. 3). The regulation of the glyoxylate shunt is primarily via
the activity of isocitrate lyase, which is downregulated by the pres-
ence of the quorum sensing molecule farnesol (Enjalbert and
Whiteway, 2005) and is usually repressed by glucose in fungi.
Although there has been no direct report on the role of the glyoxy-
late shunt in C. albicans morphogenesis, Lorenz and Fink (2001)
754 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
Fig. 3. The in silico reconstruction of the central carbon metabolism of C. albicans. Blue shading indicates the intermediate metabolites of glycolysis and the TCA cycle that act
as key precursors for the biosynthesis of amino acids. The intermediates for biosynthesis of individual amino acids are differentiated by different colours and red 3D boxes
represent the ﬁnal amino acid products. Blue 3D boxes indicate quorum sensing molecules derived from aromatic amino acids and the putative genes encoding enzymes are
in red text. The few reactions not veriﬁed by in vitro studies are indicated by red lines.
T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763 755
showed that the disruption of both ICL1 and MLS1 reduced C. albi-
cans virulence using a mouse model of intravenous infection.
4.6. Amino acid biosynthesis
The biosynthesis of amino acids is achieved through a series of
biochemical reactions that can be classiﬁed into six distinct path-
ways. Each amino acid pathway derives its carbon skeleton from
a common precursor which is an intermediate compound of glycol-
ysis or the TCA cycle. In C. albicans, the glycolytic pathway provides
precursors for the biosynthesis of four amino acid families: the his-
tidine, serine, pyruvate and aromatic families. Only the aspartate
and glutamate family precursors are derived from the TCA cycle
4.6.1. Glutamate biosynthesis
Glutamate is synthesized directly from
-ketoglutarate by an
NADPH-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH). This is an
important reaction in central carbon metabolism because it serves
to assimilate ammonia for the biosynthesis of several other amino
acids and at the same time it maintains the redox equilibrium in
the cell. The NADH-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase (Gdh2p)
favors the catabolic deamination of glutamate to
Therefore, Gdh2p is an important enzyme in the biosynthesis of
other amino acids (e.g. aspartate, tyrosine, phenylalanine, etc.).
Three glutamate dehydrogenase genes have been identiﬁed in S.
cerevisiae but only GDH2 and GDH3 have orthologues in the C. albi-
cans genome. NADH-dependent GDH2 is transcriptional repressed
by Tup1p, Nrg1p and Mig1p (Murad et al., 2001). NADP-dependent
GDH3 is downregulated by Efg1p (Doedt et al., 2004), and upregu-
lated 2-fold by Rim101p at pH 8 (Bensen et al., 2004).
4.6.2. Aromatic amino acid and quorum sensing molecule biosynthesis
The discovery that extracellular aromatic alcohols act as
quorum sensing molecules during fungal morphogenesis makes
aromatic amino acid biosynthesis an important component of
the central carbon metabolism regarding morphogenesis.But
how the aromatic alcohols are synthesized from aromatic amino
acids in C. albicans is still unclear. In contrast, the production of
aromatic alcohols in S. cerevisiae has been well-characterized.
Aromatic alcohols are derived from aromatic amino acid
catabolism via the Ehrlich pathway (Felix, 1907). This process in
S. cerevisiae involves three consecutive enzymatic steps; a trans-
aminase (encoded by ARO8, ARO9), a decarboxylase (encoded by
ARO10), and reduction by alcohol dehydrogenase (encoded by
ADH)(Hazelwood et al., 2008; Sentheshanmuganathan, 1960). It
is proposed that the biosynthesis of aromatic alcohols such as
tyrosol, tryptophol, and phenylethyl alcohol in C. albicans
(Fig. 2), follows the same biosynthetic pathway as in S. cerevisiae
(Ghosh et al., 2008). This study demonstrated that the biosynthe-
sis of aromatic alcohols by C. albicans decreased when the ARO80
gene, which encodes a transcriptional activator known to increase
the expression of Aro9p and Aro10p in S. cerevisiae, was deleted
(Ghosh et al., 2008).
4.6.3. Regulation of global amino acid biosynthesis
There are several morphology-associated genes that also regu-
late multiple amino acid biosynthetic pathways in response to
starvation and pH changes. When amino acids are limiting growth,
C. albicans switches from yeast to ﬁlamentous growth (Tripathi
et al., 2002). This phenomenon is regulated by the transcriptional
activator Gcn4p in an EFG1-dependent fashion (Tripathi et al.,
2002). The double deletion gcn4/gcn4 blocks amino acid starvation
from inducing morphogenesis, but the efg1/efg1 knockout mutants
fail to express this GCN4 phenotype (Tripathi et al., 2002). Gcn4p is
not only involved in the dimorphic switch of C. albicans, but it also
acts as a global regulator of metabolism in response to amino acid
starvation (Tournu et al., 2005; Tripathi et al., 2002). Tripathi et al.
(2002) found from DNA microarray analysis that, under amino acid
starvation conditions, Gcn4p upregulates numerous enzymes in-
volved in amino acid biosynthesis, except those responsible for
the biosynthesis of cysteine, glycine, alanine, aspartate and gluta-
mine (Table 3)(Tournu et al., 2005). Rim101p is a pH-response reg-
ulator that is activated at alkaline pH (Li and Mitchell, 1997). In
turn, Rim101p regulates the expression of pH-response regulators
(Phr1p and Phr2p) involved in the pH-dependent morphogenesis
of C. albicans (Ramon et al., 1999).Bensen et al. (2004) compared
transcriptional proﬁles between rim101/rim101 null-mutants and
the wild type strain. They found that Rim101p upregulates argi-
nine, glutamine, and histidine biosynthetic enzymes at pH 8, while
asparagine and histidine biosynthetic enzymes are downregulated
at pH4, respectively (Table 3).
The in silico reconstruction of central carbon metabolic path-
ways based on the C. albicans genome (Fig 3) enables us to inte-
grate post-genomic studies into a metabolic network that helps
elucidate the physiological and biochemical mechanisms govern-
ing the morphological switch of C. albicans.
5. Central carbon metabolism, virulence, and morphogenesis of
In additional to its role in morphogenesis, central carbon
metabolism has increasingly been recognized for its importance
in fungal pathogenicity. It has been shown that the deletion of gly-
colytic transcriptional regulators (TYE7,GAL4), a gluconeogenic
gene (FBP1), glyoxlate cycle genes (ICL1, MLS1), or a b-oxidation
gene (FOX2), attenuates the virulence of C. albicans in a murine
model of systemic infection (Askew et al., 2009; Lorenz and Fink,
2001; Piekarska et al., 2006; Ramírez and Lorenz, 2007). Interest-
ingly, C. albicans appears to modulate these carbon assimilatory
pathways during infection. When glucose is at similar levels to that
found in the bloodstream there is an activation of glycolysis and
repression of both the glyoxylate cycle and gluconeogenesis in C.
albicans (Barelle et al., 2006; Rodaki et al., 2009). In contrast, sev-
eral transcriptomic studies have demonstrated that following the
phagocytosis of C. albicans by neutrophils or macrophages, there
is a downregulation of glycolysis, and an upregulation of the glyox-
late cycle, gluconeogensis, and b-oxidation (Fradin et al., 2005; Lor-
enz et al., 2004; Rubin-Bejerano et al., 2003). Since all these
metabolic pathways involve the utilization of non-fermentable
carbon sources (e.g. amino acids, ethanol, acetate, and fatty acids),
it seems likely that C. albicans can alter its central carbon metabo-
lism to utilize alternative carbon sources in response to host de-
fences or to changes in the environment, and this metabolic
reprogramming is important for the virulence of C. albicans.
Although the morphological switch from yeast-to-hyphae is ob-
served after C. albicans is engulfed by macrophages, Lorenz et al.
(2004) suggested that those underling metabolic changes are inde-
pendent from morphogenesis.
Lorenz et al. (2004) also demonstrated that genes for
biosynthesis and degradation were upregulated after C. albicans
cells were engulfed by macrophages, and other groups have shown
that concentrations of CO
greater than 50% (v/v) enhanced ﬁla-
mentous growth (Bahn and Mühlschlegel, 2006; Klengel et al.,
2005; Mock et al., 1990; Sims, 1986). Ghosh et al. (2009) have pro-
posed a mechanism, involving arginine, which connects these two
observations. They suggest that arginase (Car1p) converts arginine
to urea, which in turn is cleaved into NH
by the amidol-
yase enzyme (Dur1,2p [sic]). They show that the dur1,2/dur1,2
null-mutant cannot form germ tubes in macrophages, and that
the phenomenon of arginine-induced hyphal formation is not
756 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
observed in efg1/efg1 strains. Therefore, once inside a macrophage,
it is proposed that C. albicans produces arginine and arginine
degradation produces CO
. The CO
may then activate adenylyl
cyclase (Cdc35p), which in turn activates the cAMP-PKA signaling
pathway and Efg1p to induce the yeast-to-hyphal transition
(Fig. 1) and thereby C. albicans escapes from the macrophage
(Klengel et al., 2005).
6. The effect of metabolic genes on the utilization of carbon
There are several metabolic genes associated with morphogen-
esis or virulence that seem to affect the ability of C. albicans to uti-
lize carbon sources. Firstly, trehalose-6-phosphate synthase (TPS1)
is a gene involved in the ﬁrst step of trehalose biosynthesis and it
regulates glucose inﬂux (Ernandes et al., 1998). The tps1/tps1 null-
mutant is unable to grow on glucose or fructose as a sole carbon
source but this mutant is capable of growing on other carbon
sources such as galactose or glycerol (Zaragoza et al., 1998). In
addition, this mutant is impaired in hyphal formation (Zaragoza
et al., 1998). Another gene related to trehalose biosynthesis is the
cell wall-linked acid trehalase (ATC1)(Pedreño et al., 2004). The
atc1/atc1 null-mutant is incapable of growing on exogenous treha-
lose as sole carbon source and the mutant has diminished capacity
to form hyphae in various media (e.g. serum, spider medium and
Lee’s medium) (Pedreño et al., 2007).
Galactose metabolism also plays a role in the morphogenesis of
C. albicans. UDP-galactose-4-epimerase (GAL10) is a key enzyme in
galactose metabolism that converts UDP-galactose into UDP-glu-
cose. The glucose generated can then be fed into glycolysis as a car-
bon and energy source. The gal10/gal10 null-mutant is unable to
grow on galactose as sole carbon source (Singh et al., 2007). Com-
pared to wild type, the mutant also exhibits increased hyphal for-
mation in rich media, Lee’s medium and spider medium (Singh
et al., 2007). Recently, Hgt4p has been reported as a galactose
and glucose sensor. Indeed, the hgt4/hgt4 null-mutant cannot grow
on either glucose or galactose in the presence of the respiration
inhibitor antimycin A (Brown et al., 2009, 2006). The hgt4/hgt4 mu-
tant is hypo-ﬁlamentous and less virulent in a mouse model of dis-
seminated candidiasis (Brown et al., 2006).
In addition, carnitine biosynthesis and acetyl-CoA metabolism
can affect the ability of C. albicans to utilize different carbon
sources. Carnitine is an essential metabolite that acts as a shuttle
to transport fatty acids and acetyl groups between intracellular
compartments. Mutants lacking carnitine synthetic enzymes (e.g.
trimethyl-lysine dioxygenase, trimethylaminobutyraldehye dehy-
drogenease, and butyrobetaine dioxygenase) or lacking carnitine
acetyltransferase, which transfers the acetyl group from acetyl-
CoA to carnitine, are unable to utilize non-fermentable carbon
sources such as fatty acids, acetate, or ethanol as sole carbon
sources (Strijbis et al., 2009; Zhou and Lorenz, 2008). Moreover,
Carman et al. (2008) have shown that a C. albicans mutant strain
with acetyl-CoA synthase (ACS2) deleted was unable to utilize glu-
cose, acetate, or ethanol but the mutant cells were viable when gi-
ven fatty acids or glycerol. The same authors deleted acetyl-CoA
hydrolase (ACH1), an enzyme which hydrolysis acetyl-CoA to ace-
tate, but this strain was fully virulent in a mouse model of dissem-
7. In silico reconstruction of the sterol biosynthetic pathway
and farnesol biosynthesis in C. albicans
The sterol biosynthesis pathway generates compounds neces-
sary for the maintenance of cellular structure. These sterols, such
as ergosterol in fungi and cholesterol in mammalian cells, are
essential for membrane integrity and permeability. The sterol bio-
synthesis pathway is targeted by several antifungal agents. In addi-
tion, sterol biosynthesis is potentially involved in the quorum
sensing of dimorphic fungi because this pathway generates farne-
sol, the most well-characterized quorum sensing molecule in-
volved in C. albicans morphogenesis.
Adopting the same approach we used for the central carbon
metabolism, we have reconstructed, in silico, the C. albicans sterol
biosynthetic pathway (Fig. 4). The ﬁrst step in sterol biosynthesis
is the condensation of acetyl-CoA and acetoacetyl-CoA into 3-hy-
droxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA by hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA syn-
thase. Seven sequential reactions are then involved in the
synthesis of farnesyl pyrophosphate, which is the precursor for
the biosynthesis of farnesol. Surprisingly, the enzyme that synthe-
sizes farnesol has not been fully described, but Hornby et al. (2003)
claimed to have extracted an enzyme from C. albicans possessing
this activity. Fungal and mammalian cells share a common sterol
biosynthetic pathway from acetyl-CoA through farnesyl pyrophos-
phate to zymosterol (Fig. 4). From this point there are different
pathways in fungi and mammals. 24-C-methyltransferase converts
zymosterol into fecosterol leading to the biosynthesis of ergosterol
in fungi, whereas 24-dehydrocholesterol reductase directs sterol
biosynthesis into the production of cholesterol which serves as a
precursor for steroid hormones (e.g. androgens and estrogens) in
mammalian cells. In general, the biosynthesis of ergosterol is con-
served between C. albicans and S. cerevisiae.
Interestingly, the presence of estrogens has been reported to
have a profound effect on the morphogenesis of dimorphic fungi
(Cheng et al., 2006; White and Larsen, 1997). Estrogen may con-
tribute to the gender bias in human infection by another dimorphic
and pathogenic fungus, P. brasiliensis, for which, contrary to C. albi-
cans, the yeast form is the pathogenic state. In healthy individuals,
P. brasiliensis infects mainly adult males (Borges-Walmsley et al.,
2002). Estrogen has been shown to suppress the hyphal-to-yeast
transition in P. brasiliensis and, thus, it has been proposed that
adult women are less prone to infection by P. brasiliensis due to
higher levels of estrogen in their bodies compared to males (Bor-
ges-Walmsley et al., 2002).
On the other hand, healthy women often develop recurrent vag-
inal candidosis, especially during pregnancy (Tarryet al., 2005). Clin-
ical studies have shown that women are more likely to have
symptomatic Candida infections when estrogen levels are high (Tar-
ry et al., 2005), and estrogen has been shown to promote germ tube
formation in C. albicans (Cheng et al., 2006; White and Larsen, 1997)
which is the ﬁrst step in the yeast-to-hypha transition (Whiteway
and Bachewich, 2007). Low estrogen levels may be one reason why
healthy adult males do not commonly develop candidosis.
Therefore estrogen, which seems to promote Candida infection
in women, protects them from P. brasiliensis infection because this
hormone induces the ﬁlamentous growth of both fungi. What is
intriguing from the metabolic point of view is the fact that estro-
gens are synthesized by mammalian cells via the sterol biosyn-
thetic pathway, which is used by fungi to synthesize farnesol
(Nickerson et al., 2006). Thus, the sterol pathway appears to have
an important role in both fungal morphogenesis and in
8. The integration of quorum sensing and central carbon
metabolism in C. albicans
QSMs are products of the central carbon metabolism of C. albi-
cans. They function as communication signals and coordinately
regulate the growth of C. albicans cells, in response to cell density.
Their production, however, may simply reﬂect the ﬂux within the
central carbon metabolism pathways and their accumulation and
T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763 757
signaling may provide feedback to these pathways to optimise
growth under the particular environmental conditions. For exam-
ple, if carbon and nitrogen sources are available to the cells this
may stimulate ﬂux though the pathways for the biosynthesis of
QSMs such as farnesol that will repress the ﬁlamentous growth
of C. albicans and, if carbon and/or nitrogen sources become scarce,
ﬂux through other pathways involved in the biosynthesis of QSMs
that accelerate hypha formation, such as tyrosol, may be activated.
Themetabolic hubs of central carbon metabolism are metabolites
that take part in more than twenty different pathways and include
pyruvate, NADH, NADPH, and ATP (Villas-Bôas et al., 2007). Thus,
central carbon metabolism is highly interconnected and forms a
metabolic network that responds very quickly to any environmental
change.This isthe part of cell metabolism most likely to include met-
abolic reactions involved in cell responses to QSMs in the environ-
ment. Indeed, several observations support the idea that central
carbon metabolism provides the carbon sources for the synthesis
of QSMs. As discussed above, farnesol, tyrosol, tryptophol, and
phenyethyl alcohol are derived from glycolytic products. Aromatic
QSMs are derived from phosphoenolpyruvate and farnesol is derived
from acetyl-CoA. Therefore, if these molecules are synthesized as
part of central carbon metabolism, their concentrations are likely
to affect the ﬂux distribution in these primary metabolic pathways
by suppressing or inducing speciﬁc metabolic reactions. In addition,
N-acyl homoserine lactones, which are common QMSs produced by
many bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas corrugata,Erwina carotovora and
others (Dong et al., 2001; Licciardello et al., 2007; Schaefer et al.,
1996)), are synthesized directly from methionine, which is derived
from oxaloacetic acid in the TCA cycle, and are thus also part of cen-
tral carbon metabolism. Moreover, the production of QSMs seems to
be affected by the availability of their precursors. For instance, the
presence of aromatic amino acids increases the level of tyrosol, try-
ptophol, and phenyethyl alcohol in C. albicans (Ghosh et al., 2008).
Despite the obvious connection between quorum sensing and
central carbon metabolism, the role of primary metabolism in
the mechanism of quorum sensing has not been investigated. We
hypothesize that once extracellular QSMs reach a certain concen-
tration, their passive diffusion across the cell membrane could af-
fect the expression of speciﬁc genes or the activity of speciﬁc
enzymes involved in morphogenesis. Indeed, ﬂuorescently labeled
farnesol analogs supplied to C. albicans cultures have been found in
the cytoplasm of C. albicans (Shchepin et al., 2003). Thus, QSMs
could rapidly up- and down-regulate particular metabolic path-
ways (e.g. aromatic amino acid biosynthesis and sterol biosynthe-
sis), redistributing the metabolic ﬂux of carbon through central
carbon metabolism and inducing the morphological switch by
altering the biosynthesis of cell wall components. Several transcri-
ptomics studies have shown that the metabolic pathways from
central carbon metabolism are highly affected by the presence of
quorum sensing molecules (Table 3). Therefore, the study on the
effect of QSMs on C. albicans morphogenesis in the context of cen-
tral carbon metabolism has the potential to unravel important
metabolic mechanisms underlying the morphogenetic process,
and thus, should be pursued further.
9. Final remarks
The ability to study the behaviour of biological systems in vivo
under different environmental conditions has increased with re-
cent developments in genomics and post-genomic tools. Gene
knockout experiments can demonstrate the involvement of indi-
vidual genes in biological processes, but often it is unclear how
the genes mediate their effects. Proteomic studies can conﬁrm that
changes in transcription associated with gene disruption, or envi-
ronmental changes, result in altered protein expression. The inte-
gration of gene knockout, transcriptomic and proteomic studies
has elegantly elucidated signaling pathways involved in C. albicans
morphogenesis. This still, however, only gives a linear view of mor-
phogenesis. This review has used the C. albicans genome data to
Fig. 4. The in silico reconstruction of the sterol pathway of C. albicans and mammalian cells. Farnesol, which suppress germ tube formation in C. albicans, is produced via the
sterol pathway, but some enzymes involved in its biosynthesis are still to be identiﬁed. Mammals use the same pathway to synthesize estrogens, which promote germ tube
formation in C. albicans.
758 T.-L. Han et al. / Fungal Genetics and Biology 48 (2011) 747–763
reconstruct the network of metabolic pathways involved in central
carbon, sterol, and QSM metabolism. This will provide a framework
which can guide the interpretation of metabolomic data and thus
generate the ﬂuxome and a more three-dimensional appreciation
of how QSMs and environmental cues mediate their effects on
Morphogenesis is considered to be an important virulence fac-
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sources to generate the building blocks of new cellular structures
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biosynthesis of the quorum sensing molecules involved in cell-cell
communication and the coordinated dimorphic transition in a pop-
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pathways should enable a powerful systems biology study of this
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