LaeA Controls Citric Acid Production through Regulation of the Citrate Exporter-Encoding cexA Gene in Aspergillus luchuensis mut. kawachii

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020 Feb 18;86(5):e01950-19. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01950-19. Print 2020 Feb 18.


The putative methyltransferase LaeA is a global regulator of metabolic and development processes in filamentous fungi. We characterized the homologous laeA genes of the white koji fungus Aspergillus luchuensis mut. kawachii (A. kawachii) to determine their role in citric acid hyperproduction. The ΔlaeA strain exhibited a significant reduction in citric acid production. Cap analysis gene expression (CAGE) revealed that laeA is required for the expression of a putative citrate exporter-encoding cexA gene, which is critical for citric acid production. Deficient citric acid production by a ΔlaeA strain was rescued by the overexpression of cexA to a level comparable with that of a cexA-overexpressing ΔcexA strain. In addition, chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with quantitative PCR (ChIP-qPCR) analysis indicated that LaeA regulates the expression of cexA via methylation levels of the histones H3K4 and H3K9. These results indicate that LaeA is involved in citric acid production through epigenetic regulation of cexA in A. kawachii IMPORTANCE A. kawachii has been traditionally used for production of the distilled spirit shochu in Japan. Citric acid produced by A. kawachii plays an important role in preventing microbial contamination during the shochu fermentation process. This study characterized homologous laeA genes; using CAGE, complementation tests, and ChIP-qPCR, it was found that laeA is required for citric acid production through the regulation of cexA in A. kawachii The epigenetic regulation of citric acid production elucidated in this study will be useful for controlling the fermentation processes of shochu.

Keywords: Aspergillus luchuensis mut. kawachii; cexA; citrate exporter; citric acid; laeA; putative methyltransferase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Aspergillus / genetics*
  • Aspergillus / metabolism
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Citric Acid / metabolism*
  • Fungal Proteins / chemistry
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics*
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Methyltransferases / chemistry
  • Methyltransferases / genetics*
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Citric Acid
  • Methyltransferases