Glycoinositolphosphoceramides (GIPCs) are complex sphingolipids present at the plasma membrane of various eukaryotes with the important exception of mammals. In fungi, these glycosphingolipids commonly contain an α-mannose residue (Man) linked at position 2 of the inositol. However, several pathogenic fungi additionally synthesize zwitterionic GIPCs carrying an α-glucosamine residue (GlcN) at this position. In the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus, the GlcNα1,2IPC core (where IPC is inositolphosphoceramide) is elongated to Manα1,3Manα1,6GlcNα1,2IPC, which is the most abundant GIPC synthesized by this fungus. In this study, we identified an A. fumigatus N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase, named GntA, and demonstrate its involvement in the initiation of zwitterionic GIPC biosynthesis. Targeted deletion of the gene encoding GntA in A. fumigatus resulted in complete absence of zwitterionic GIPC; a phenotype that could be reverted by episomal expression of GntA in the mutant. The N-acetylhexosaminyltransferase activity of GntA was substantiated by production of N-acetylhexosamine-IPC in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae upon GntA expression. Using an in vitro assay, GntA was furthermore shown to use UDP-N-acetylglucosamine as donor substrate to generate a glycolipid product resistant to saponification and to digestion by phosphatidylinositol-phospholipase C as expected for GlcNAcα1,2IPC. Finally, as the enzymes involved in mannosylation of IPC, GntA was localized to the Golgi apparatus, the site of IPC synthesis.
Keywords: ascomycete; glucosamine; glycosphingolipids; glycosyltransferase; saprophyte.
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