Surface structure characterization of Aspergillus fumigatus conidia mutated in the melanin synthesis pathway and their human cellular immune response.
In Aspergillus fumigatus, the conidial surface contains dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-melanin. Six-clustered gene products have been identified that mediate sequential catalysis of DHN-melanin biosynthesis. Melanin thus produced is known to be a virulence factor, protecting the fungus from the host defense mechanisms. In the present study, individual deletion of the genes involved in the initial three steps of melanin biosynthesis resulted in an altered conidial surface with masked surface rodlet layer, leaky cell wall allowing the deposition of proteins on the cell surface and exposing the otherwise-masked cell wall polysaccharides at the surface. Melanin as such was immunologically inert; however, deletion mutant conidia with modified surfaces could activate human dendritic cells and the subsequent cytokine production in contrast to the wild-type conidia. Cell surface defects were rectified in the conidia mutated in downstream melanin biosynthetic pathway, and maximum immune inertness was observed upon synthesis of vermelone onward. These observations suggest that although melanin as such is an immunologically inert material, it confers virulence by facilitating proper formation of the A. fumigatus conidial surface.