Evolution of the mating type locus: insights gained from the dimorphic primary fungal pathogens Histoplasma capsulatum, Coccidioides immitis, and Coccidioides posadasii

Eukaryot Cell. 2007 Apr;6(4):622-9. doi: 10.1128/EC.00018-07. Epub 2007 Mar 2.


Sexual reproduction of fungi is governed by the mating type (MAT) locus, a specialized region of the genome encoding key transcriptional regulators that direct regulatory networks to specify cell identity and fate. Knowledge of MAT locus structure and evolution has been considerably advanced in recent years as a result of genomic analyses that enable the definition of MAT locus sequences in many species as well as provide an understanding of the evolutionary plasticity of this unique region of the genome. Here, we extend this analysis to define the mating type locus of three dimorphic primary human fungal pathogens, Histoplasma capsulatum, Coccidioides immitis, and Coccidioides posadasii, using genomic analysis, direct sequencing, and bioinformatics. These studies provide evidence that all three species possess heterothallic bipolar mating type systems, with isolates encoding either a high-mobility-group (HMG) domain or an alpha-box transcriptional regulator. These genes are intact in all loci examined and have not been subject to loss or decay, providing evidence that the loss of fertility upon passage in H. capsulatum is not attributable to mutations at the MAT locus. These findings also suggest that an extant sexual cycle remains to be defined in both Coccidioides species, in accord with population genetic evidence. Based on these MAT sequences, a facile PCR test was developed that allows the mating type to be rapidly ascertained. Finally, these studies highlight the evolutionary forces shaping the MAT locus, revealing examples in which flanking genes have been inverted or subsumed and incorporated into an expanding MAT locus, allowing us to propose an expanded model for the evolution of the MAT locus in the phylum Ascomycota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ascomycota / genetics
  • Coccidioides / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Genes, Mating Type, Fungal*
  • Histoplasma / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sex Chromosomes / genetics