Parasexual recombination enables Aspergillus fumigatus to persist in cystic fibrosis

Tobias Engel, Paul E. Verweij, Joost Van Den Heuvel, Dechen Wangmo, Jianhua Zhang, Alfons J.M. Debets, Eveline Snelders*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Aspergillus fumigatus is a saprobic fungus that causes a range of pulmonary diseases, some of which are characterised by fungal persistence such as is observed in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Creation of genetic variation is critical for A. fumigatus to adapt to the lung environment, but biofilm formation, especially in CF patients, may preclude mutational supply in A. fumigatus due to its confinement to the hyphal morphotype. We tested our hypothesis that genetic variation is created through parasexual recombination in chronic biofilms by phenotypic and genetic analysis of A. fumigatus isolates cultured from different origins.
As diploids are the hallmark of parasex, we screened 799 A. fumigatus isolates obtained from patients with CF, chronic pulmonary lung disease and acute invasive aspergillosis, and from the environment for spore size. Benomyl sensitivity, nuclear content measurements through fluorescence-activated cell sorting and scanning electron microscopy were used to confirm the diploid state of large size spores. Whole genome sequencing was used to characterise diploid-associated genetic variation.
We identified 11 diploids in isolates recovered from six of 11 (55%) CF patients and from one of 24 (4%) chronic aspergillosis patients, but not in 368 isolates from patients with acute Aspergillus infection and the environment. Diploid formation was associated with accumulation of mutations and variable haploid offspring including a voriconazole-resistant isolate.
Parasexual recombination allows A. fumigatus to adapt and persist in CF patients, and plays a role in azole resistance development. Our findings are highly significant for understanding the genetics and biology of A. fumigatus in the human lung.
Original languageEnglish
Article number00020-2020
JournalERJ Open Research
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

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