Evolution of the pathogenic mold Aspergillus fumigatus on high copper levels identifies novel resistance genes

mSphere. 2024 Jun 25;9(6):e0025324. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00253-24. Epub 2024 May 30.


Aspergillus fumigatus is the leading cause of severe mold infections in immunocompromised patients. This common fungus possesses innate attributes that allow it to evade the immune system, including its ability to survive the high copper (Cu) levels in phagosomes. Our previous work has revealed that under high Cu levels, the A. fumigatus transcription factor AceA is activated, inducing the expression of the copper exporter CrpA to expel excess Cu. To identify additional elements in Cu resistance, we evolved A. fumigatus wild-type and mutant ΔaceA or ΔcrpA strains under increasing Cu concentrations. Sequencing of the resultant resistant strains identified both shared and unique evolutionary pathways to resistance. Reintroduction of three of the most common mutations in genes encoding Pma1 (plasma membrane H+-ATPase), Gcs1 (glutamate cysteine-ligase), and Cpa1 (carbamoyl-phosphate synthetase), alone and in combination, into wild-type A. fumigatus confirmed their additive role in conferring Cu resistance. Detailed analysis indicated that the pma1 mutation L424I preserves Pma1 H+-ATPase activity under high Cu concentrations and that the cpa1 mutation A37V confers a survival advantage to conidia in the presence of Cu. Interestingly, simultaneous mutations of all three genes did not alter virulence in infected mice. Our work has identified novel Cu-resistance pathways and provides an evolutionary approach for dissecting the molecular basis of A. fumigatus adaptation to diverse environmental challenges.IMPORTANCEAspergillus fumigatus is the most common mold infecting patients with weakened immunity. Infection is caused by the inhalation of mold spores into the lungs and is often fatal. In healthy individuals, spores are engulfed by lung immune cells and destroyed by a combination of enzymes, oxidants, and high levels of copper. However, the mold can protect itself by pumping out excess copper with specific transporters. Here, we evolved A. fumigatus under high copper levels and identified new genetic mutations that help it resist the toxic effects of copper. We studied how these mutations affect the mold's ability to resist copper and how they impact its ability to cause disease. This is the first such study in a pathogenic mold, and it gives us a better understanding of how it manages to bypass our body's defenses during an infection.

Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; Cpa1; Cu resistance; Gcs1; Pma1; laboratory evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspergillosis / immunology
  • Aspergillosis / microbiology
  • Aspergillus fumigatus* / genetics
  • Aspergillus fumigatus* / pathogenicity
  • Copper* / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Fungal / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Fungal Proteins* / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins* / metabolism
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases / genetics
  • Virulence


  • Copper
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Glutamate-Cysteine Ligase
  • Proton-Translocating ATPases