High diversity of polyketide synthase genes and the melanin biosynthesis gene cluster inPenicillium marneffei

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Despite the unique phenotypic properties and clinical importance of Penicillium marneffei, the polyketide synthase genes in its genome have never been characterized. Twenty-three putative polyketide synthase genes and two putative polyketide synthase nonribosomal peptide-synthase hybrid genes were identified in the P. marneffei genome, a diversity much higher than found in other pathogenic thermal dimorphic fungi, such as Histoplasma capsulatum (one polyketide synthase gene) and Coccidioides immitis (10 polyketide synthase genes). These genes were evenly distributed on the phylogenetic tree with polyketide synthase genes of Aspergillus and other fungi, indicating that the high diversity was not a result of lineage-specific gene expansion through recent gene duplication. The melanin-biosynthesis gene cluster had gene order and orientations identical to those in the Talaromyces stipitatus (a teleomorph of Penicillium emmonsii) genome. Phylogenetically, all six genes of the melanin-biosynthesis gene cluster in P. marneffei were also most closely related to those in T. stipitatus, with high bootstrap supports. The polyketide synthase gene of the melanin-biosynthesis gene cluster (alb1) in P. marneffei was knocked down, which was accompanied by loss of melanin pigment production and reduced ornamentation in conidia. The survival of mice challenged with the alb1 knockdown mutant was significantly better than those challenged with wild-type P. marneffei (P < 0.005). The sterilizing doses of hydrogen peroxide, leading to a 50% reduction in survival of conidia, were 11 min for wild-type P. marneffei and 6 min for the alb1 knockdown mutant of P. marneffei, implying that the melanin-biosynthesis gene cluster contributed to virulence through decreased susceptibility to killing by hydrogen peroxide.

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