The bZIP transcription factor HapX is post-translationally regulated to control iron homeostasis in Aspergillus fumigatus.
The airborne fungus Aspergillus fumigatus causes opportunistic infections in humans with high mortality rates in immunocompromised patients. Previous work established that the bZIP transcription factor HapX is essential for virulence via adaptation to iron limitation by repressing iron-consuming pathways and activating iron acquisition mechanisms. Moreover, HapX was shown to be essential for transcriptional activation of vacuolar iron storage and iron-dependent pathways in response to iron availability. Here, we demonstrate that HapX has a very short half-life during iron starvation, which is further decreased in response to iron, while siderophore biosynthetic enzymes are very stable. We identified Fbx22 and SumO as HapX interactors and, in agreement, HapX post-translational modifications including ubiquitination of lysine161, sumoylation of lysine242 and phosphorylation of threonine319. All three modifications were enriched in the immediate adaptation from iron-limiting to iron-replete conditions. Interfering with these post-translational modifications, either by point mutations or by inactivation, of Fbx22 or SumO, altered HapX degradation, heme biosynthesis and iron resistance to different extents. Consistent with the need to precisely regulate HapX protein levels, overexpression of hapX caused significant growth defects under iron sufficiency. Taken together, our results indicate that post-translational regulation of HapX is important to control iron homeostasis in A. fumigatus.