A fluorogenic C. neoformans reporter strain with a robust expression of m-cherry expressed from a safe haven site in the genome
Abstract C. neoformans is an encapsulated fungal pathogen with defined asexual and sexual life cycles. Due to the availability of genetic and molecular tools for its manipulation, it has become a model organism for studies of fungal pathogens, even though it lacks a reliable system for maintaining DNA fragments as extrachromosomal plasmids. To compensate for this deficiency, we identified a genomic gene-free intergenic region where heterologous DNA could be inserted by homologous recombination without adverse effects on the phenotype of the recipient strain. Since such a site in the C. neoformans genome at a different location has been named previously as “safe haven”, we named this locus second safe haven site ( SH2 ). Insertion of DNA into this site in the genome of the KN99 congenic strain pair caused minimal change in the growth of the engineered strain under a variety of in vitro and in vivo conditions. We exploited this ‘safe’ locus to create a genetically stable highly fluorescent strain expressing mCherry protein (KN99mCH); this strain closely resembled its wild-type parent (KN99α) in growth under a variety of in vitro stress conditions and in the expression of virulence traits. The efficiency of phagocytosis and the proliferation of KN99mCH inside human monocyte-derived macrophages were comparable to those of KN99α, and the engineered strain showed the expected organ dissemination after inoculation, although there was a slight reduction in virulence. The mCherry fluorescence allowed us to measure specific association of cryptococci with leukocytes in the lungs and mediastinal lymph nodes of infected animals and, for the first-time, to assess their live/dead status in vivo . These results highlight the utility of KN99mCH for elucidation of host-pathogen interactions in vivo . Finally, we generated drug-resistant KN99 strains of both mating types that are marked at the SH2 locus with a specific drug resistant gene cassette; these strains will facilitate the generation of mutant strains by mating. Highlights A second safe haven site ( SH2 ) in the C. neoformans genome that is amenable for targeted heterologous DNA insertions. A strain encoding mCherry at the SH2 site (KN99mCH) is highly fluorescent. KN99mCH phenotypes are comparable to those of the parent KN99α strain. KN99mCH is ideal for in vitro and in vivo host-pathogen interaction studies employing fluorescence detection. C. neoformans marked at the SH2 locus will facilitate studies involving genetic crosses.
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