The tight association of Candida albicans with the human host has driven the evolution of mechanisms that permit metabolic flexibility. Amino acids, present in a free or peptide-bound form, are abundant carbon and nitrogen sources in many host niches. In C. albicans, the capacity to utilize certain amino acids, like proline, is directly connected to fungal morphogenesis and virulence. Yet the precise nature of proline sensing and uptake in this pathogenic fungus has not been investigated. Since C. albicans encodes 10 putative orthologs of the four Saccharomyces cerevisiae proline transporters, we tested deletion strains of the respective genes and identified Gnp2 (CR_09920W) as the main C. albicans proline permease. In addition, we found that this specialization of Gnp2 was reflected in its transcriptional regulation and further assigned distinct substrate specificities for the other orthologs, indicating functional differences of the C. albicans amino acid permeases compared to the model yeast. The physiological relevance of proline uptake is exemplified by the findings that strains lacking GNP2 were unable to filament in response to extracellular proline and had a reduced capacity to damage macrophages and impaired survival following phagocytosis. Furthermore, GNP2 deletion rendered the cells more sensitive to oxidative stress, illustrating new connections between amino acid uptake and stress adaptation in C. albicans. IMPORTANCE The utilization of various nutrients is of paramount importance for the ability of Candida albicans to successfully colonize and infect diverse host niches. In this context, amino acids are of special interest due to their ubiquitous availability, relevance for fungal growth, and direct influence on virulence traits like filamentation. In this study, we identify a specialized proline transporter in C. albicans encoded by GNP2. The corresponding amino acid permease is essential for proline-induced filamentation, oxidative stress resistance, and fungal survival following interaction with macrophages. Altogether, this work highlights the importance of amino acid uptake for metabolic and stress adaptation in this fungus.
Keywords: Candida albicans; amino acid transport; filamentation; oxidative stress; proline.