Background: Hsp90 is an environmentally contingent molecular chaperone that influences the form and function of diverse regulators of cellular signaling. Hsp90 potentiates the evolution of fungal drug resistance by enabling crucial cellular stress responses. Here we demonstrate that in the leading fungal pathogen of humans, Candida albicans, Hsp90 governs cellular circuitry required not only for drug resistance but also for the key morphogenetic transition from yeast to filamentous growth that is crucial for virulence. This transition is normally regulated by environmental cues, such as exposure to serum, that are contingent upon elevated temperature to induce morphogenesis. The basis for this temperature dependence has remained enigmatic.
Results: We show that compromising Hsp90 function pharmacologically or genetically induces a transition from yeast to filamentous growth in the absence of external cues. Elevated temperature relieves Hsp90-mediated repression of the morphogenetic program. Hsp90 regulates morphogenetic circuitry by repressing Ras1-PKA signaling. Modest Hsp90 compromise enhances the phenotypic effects of activated Ras1 signaling whereas deletion of positive regulators of the Ras1-PKA cascade blocks the morphogenetic response to Hsp90 inhibition. Consistent with the requirement for morphogenetic flexibility for virulence, depletion of C. albicans Hsp90 attenuates virulence in a murine model of systemic disease.
Conclusions: Hsp90 governs the integration of environmental cues with cellular signaling to orchestrate fungal morphogenesis and virulence, suggesting new therapeutic strategies for life-threatening infectious disease. Hsp90's capacity to govern a key developmental program in response to temperature change provides a new mechanism that complements the elegant repertoire that organisms utilize to sense temperature.