The proteasome regulator Rpn4 controls antifungal drug tolerance by coupling protein homeostasis with metabolic responses to drug stress

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Fungal pathogens overcome antifungal drug therapy by classic resistance mechanisms, such as increased efflux or changes to the drug target. However, even when a fungal strain is susceptible, trailing or persistent microbial growth in the presence of an antifungal drug can contribute to therapeutic failure. This trailing growth is caused by adaptive physiological changes that enable the growth of a subpopulation of fungal cells in high drug concentrations, in what is described as drug tolerance. Mechanistically, antifungal drug tolerance is incompletely understood. Here we report that the transcriptional activator Rpn4 is important for drug tolerance in the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. Deletion of RPN4 eliminates tolerance to the commonly used antifungal drug fluconazole. We defined the mechanism and show that Rpn4 controls fluconazole tolerance via two target pathways. First, Rpn4 activates proteasome gene expression, which enables sufficient proteasome capacity to overcome fluconazole-induced proteotoxicity and the accumulation of ubiquitinated proteins targeted for degradation. Consistently, inhibition of the proteasome with MG132 eliminates fluconazole tolerance and resistance, and phenocopies the rpn4Δ/Δ mutant for loss of tolerance. Second, Rpn4 is required for wild type expression of the genes required for the synthesis of the membrane lipid ergosterol. Our data indicates that this function of Rpn4 is required for mitigating the inhibition of ergosterol biosynthesis by fluconazole. Based on our findings, we propose that Rpn4 is a central hub for fluconazole tolerance in C. albicans by coupling the regulation of protein homeostasis (proteostasis) and lipid metabolism to overcome drug-induced proteotoxicity and membrane stress.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011338
Number of pages26
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

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