Investigating Conservation of the Cell-Cycle-Regulated Transcriptional Program in the Fungal Pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans

PLoS Genet. 2016 Dec 5;12(12):e1006453. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006453. eCollection 2016 Dec.


The pathogenic yeast Cryptococcus neoformans causes fungal meningitis in immune-compromised patients. Cell proliferation in the budding yeast form is required for C. neoformans to infect human hosts, and virulence factors such as capsule formation and melanin production are affected by cell-cycle perturbation. Thus, understanding cell-cycle regulation is critical for a full understanding of virulence factors for disease. Our group and others have demonstrated that a large fraction of genes in Saccharomyces cerevisiae is expressed periodically during the cell cycle, and that proper regulation of this transcriptional program is important for proper cell division. Despite the evolutionary divergence of the two budding yeasts, we found that a similar percentage of all genes (~20%) is periodically expressed during the cell cycle in both yeasts. However, the temporal ordering of periodic expression has diverged for some orthologous cell-cycle genes, especially those related to bud emergence and bud growth. Genes regulating DNA replication and mitosis exhibited a conserved ordering in both yeasts, suggesting that essential cell-cycle processes are conserved in periodicity and in timing of expression (i.e. duplication before division). In S. cerevisiae cells, we have proposed that an interconnected network of periodic transcription factors (TFs) controls the bulk of the cell-cycle transcriptional program. We found that temporal ordering of orthologous network TFs was not always maintained; however, the TF network topology at cell-cycle commitment appears to be conserved in C. neoformans. During the C. neoformans cell cycle, DNA replication genes, mitosis genes, and 40 genes involved in virulence are periodically expressed. Future work toward understanding the gene regulatory network that controls cell-cycle genes is critical for developing novel antifungals to inhibit pathogen proliferation.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / genetics
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / growth & development
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / pathogenicity
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungal Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Mitosis / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / genetics
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / growth & development
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • Fungal Proteins

Grant support

This work is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant #D12AP00025 (Biochronicity: Time, Networks, Evolution and Function; The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.