Melanin externalization in candida albicans depends on cell wall chitin structures

Claire A. Walker, Beatriz L. Gómez, Héctor M. Mora-Montes, Kevin S. Mackenzie, Carol A. Munro, Alistair J.P. Brown, Neil A.R. Gow, Christopher C. Kibbler, Frank C. Odds

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The fungal pathogen Candida albicans produces dark-pigmented melanin after 3 to 4 days of incubation in medium containing L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA) as a substrate. Expression profiling of C. albicans revealed very few genes significantly up- or downregulated by growth in L-DOPA. We were unable to determine a possible role for melanin in the virulence of C. albicans. However, we showed that melanin was externalized from the fungal cells in the form of electron-dense melanosomes that were free or often loosely bound to the cell wall exterior. Melanin production was boosted by the addition of N-acetylglucosamine to the medium, indicating a possible association between melanin production and chitin synthesis. Melanin externalization was blocked in a mutant specifically disrupted in the chitin synthase-encoding gene CHS2. Melanosomes remained within the outermost cell wall layers in chs3Δ and chs2Δ chs3Δ mutants but were fully externalized in chs8Δ and chs2Δ chs8Δ mutants. All the CHS mutants synthesized dark pigment at equivalent rates from mixed membrane fractions in vitro, suggesting it was the form of chitin structure produced by the enzymes, not the enzymes themselves, that was involved in the melanin externalization process. Mutants with single and double disruptions of the chitinase genes CHT2 and CHT3 and the chitin pathway regulator ECM33 also showed impaired melanin externalization. We hypothesize that the chitin product of Chs3 forms a scaffold essential for normal externalization of melanosomes, while the Chs8 chitin product, probably produced in cell walls in greater quantity in the absence of CHS2, impedes externalization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1329-1342
Number of pages14
JournalEukaryotic Cell
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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