Microevolution of Cryptococcus neoformans driven by massive tandem gene amplification

Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Aug;29(8):1987-2000. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss066. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


The subtelomeric regions of organisms ranging from protists to fungi undergo a much higher rate of rearrangement than is observed in the rest of the genome. While characterizing these ~40-kb regions of the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans, we have identified a recent gene amplification event near the right telomere of chromosome 3 that involves a gene encoding an arsenite efflux transporter (ARR3). The 3,177-bp amplicon exists in a tandem array of 2-15 copies and is present exclusively in strains with the C. neoformans var. grubii subclade VNI A5 MLST profile. Strains bearing the amplification display dramatically enhanced resistance to arsenite that correlates with the copy number of the repeat; the origin of increased resistance was verified as transport-related by functional complementation of an arsenite transporter mutant of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Subsequent experimental evolution in the presence of increasing concentrations of arsenite yielded highly resistant strains with the ARR3 amplicon further amplified to over 50 copies, accounting for up to ~1% of the whole genome and making the copy number of this repeat as high as that seen for the ribosomal DNA. The example described here therefore represents a rare evolutionary intermediate-an array that is currently in a state of dynamic flux, in dramatic contrast to relatively common, static relics of past tandem duplications that are unable to further amplify due to nucleotide divergence. Beyond identifying and engineering fungal isolates that are highly resistant to arsenite and describing the first reported instance of microevolution via massive gene amplification in C. neoformans, these results suggest that adaptation through gene amplification may be an important mechanism that C. neoformans employs in response to environmental stresses, perhaps including those encountered during infection. More importantly, the ARR3 array will serve as an ideal model for further molecular genetic analyses of how tandem gene duplications arise and expand.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenites / metabolism
  • Arsenites / toxicity
  • Chromosomes, Fungal / genetics
  • Cryptococcosis / genetics
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / drug effects
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / genetics*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / isolation & purification
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Gene Amplification / genetics*
  • Gene Deletion
  • Gene Dosage / genetics
  • Genes, Fungal / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Phylogeny
  • Telomere / metabolism


  • Arsenites
  • Fungal Proteins
  • arsenite