Unraveling the Gene Regulatory Networks of the Global Regulators VeA and LaeA in Aspergillus nidulans

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Mar 15;e0016623. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.00166-23. Online ahead of print.


In the filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans, the velvet family protein VeA and the global regulator of secondary metabolism LaeA govern development and secondary metabolism mostly by acting as the VelB/VeA/LaeA heterotrimeric complex. While functions of these highly conserved controllers have been well studied, the genome-wide regulatory networks governing cellular and chemical development remain to be uncovered. Here, by integrating transcriptomic analyses, protein-DNA interactions, and the known A. nidulans gene/protein interaction data, we have unraveled the gene regulatory networks governed by VeA and LaeA. Within the networks, VeA and LaeA directly control the expression of numerous genes involved in asexual/sexual development and primary/secondary metabolism in A. nidulans. Totals of 3,190 and 1,834 potential direct target genes of VeA and LaeA were identified, respectively, including several important developmental and metabolic regulators such as flbA·B·C, velB·C, areA, mpkB, and hogA. Moreover, by analyzing over 8,800 ChIP-seq peaks, we have revealed the predicted common consensus sequences 5'-TGATTGGCTG-3' and 5'-TCACGTGAC-3' that VeA and LaeA might bind to interchangeably. These findings further expand the biochemical and genomic studies of the VelB/VeA/LaeA complex functionality in the gene regulation. In summary, this study unveils genes that are under the regulation of VeA and LaeA, proposes the VeA- and LaeA-mediated gene regulatory networks, and demonstrates their genome-wide developmental and metabolic regulations in A. nidulans. IMPORTANCE Fungal development and metabolism are genetically programmed events involving specialized cellular differentiation, cellular communication, and temporal and spatial regulation of gene expression. In genus Aspergillus, the global regulators VeA and LaeA govern developmental and metabolic processes by affecting the expression of downstream genes, including multiple transcription factors and signaling elements. Due to their vital roles in overall biology, functions of VeA and LaeA have been extensively studied, but there still has been a lack of knowledge about their genome-wide regulatory networks. In this study, employing the model fungus A. nidulans, we have identified direct targets of VeA and LaeA and their gene regulatory networks by integrating transcriptome, protein-DNA interaction, and protein-protein interaction analyses. Our results demonstrate the genome-wide regulatory mechanisms of these global regulators, thereby advancing the knowledge of fungal biology and genetics.

Keywords: Aspergillus; DNA binding motif; LaeA; VeA; development; gene regulatory network; global regulator; metabolism.