Interdisciplinary Graduate Program
Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology
First Thesis Advisor
Paul Kaufman, Ph.D.
Histone Acetyltransferases, Candida albicans, Antifungal Agents, Molecular Targeted Therapy
Discovery of new antifungal chemo-therapeutics for humans is limited by the large degree of conservation among eukaryotic organisms. In recent years, the histone acetyl-transferase Rtt109 was identified as the sole enzyme responsible for an abundant and important histone modification, histone H3 lysine 56 (H3K56) acetylation. In the absence of Rtt109, the lack of acetylated H3K56 renders yeast cells extremely sensitive to genotoxic agents. Consequently, the ability to sustain genotoxic stress from the host immune system is crucial for pathogens to perpetuate an infection. Because Rtt109 is conserved only within the fungal kingdom, I reasoned that Rtt109 could be a novel drug target.
My dissertation first establishes that genome stability provided by Rtt109 and H3K56 acetylation is required for Candida albicans pathogenesis. I demonstrate that mice infected with rtt109 -/- cells experience a significant reduction in organ pathology and mortality rate. I hypothesized that the avirulent phenotype of rtt109 -/- cells is due to their intrinsic hypersensitivity to the genotoxic effects of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are utilized by phagocytic cells of the immune system to kill pathogens. Indeed, C. albicans rtt109 -/- cells are more efficiently killed by macrophages in vitro than are wild-type cells. However, inhibition of ROS generation in macrophages renders rtt109 -/- and wild-type yeast cells equally resilient to killing.
These findings support the concept that ability to resist genotoxic stress conferred by Rtt109 and H3K56 acetylation is a virulence factor for fungal pathogens and establish Rtt109 as an opportune drug- target for novel antifungal therapeutics.
Second, I report the discovery of a specific chemical inhibitor of Rtt109 catalysis as the initial step in the development of a novel antifungal agent. We established a collaboration with the Broad Institute (Cambridge, MA) to perform a high-throughput screen of 300,000 compounds. From these, I identified a single chemical, termed KB7, which specifically inhibits Rtt109 catalysis, with no effect on other HAT enzymes tested. KB7 has an IC50 value of approximately 60 nM and displays noncompetitive inhibition regarding both acetyl-coenzyme A and histone substrates. With the genotoxic agent camptothecin, KB7 causes a synergistic decrease in C. albicans growth rate. However, this effect is only observed in an efflux-pump mutant, suggesting that this compound would be more effective if it were better retained intracellularly. Further studies through structure-activity relationship (SAR) modifications will be conducted on KB7 to improve its effective cellular concentration.
Lopes da Rosa-Spiegler, J. Targeting the Histone Acetyl-Transferase, RTT109, for Novel Anti-Fungal Drug Development: A Dissertation. (2012). University of Massachusetts Medical School. GSBS Dissertations and Theses. Paper 624. DOI: 10.13028/w35r-7869. https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/gsbs_diss/624
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