Horizontal Gene Transfer of Triazole Resistance in Aspergillus fumigatus

Alma Morogovsky, Mariana Handelman, Ammar Abou Kandil, Yona Shadkchan, Nir Osherov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aspergillus fumigatus is the primary mold pathogen in humans. It can cause a wide range of diseases in humans, with high mortality rates in immunocompromised patients. The first-line treatments for invasive A. fumigatus infections are the triazole antifungals that inhibit Cyp51 lanosterol demethylase activity, blocking ergosterol biosynthesis. However, triazole-resistant strains of A. fumigatus are increasingly encountered, leading to increased mortality. The most common triazole resistance mechanisms in A. fumigatus are alterations in the cyp51A gene or promoter. We tested the hypothesis that A. fumigatus can acquire triazole resistance by horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of resistance-conferring gene cyp51A. HGT has not been experimentally analyzed in filamentous fungi. Therefore, we developed an HGT assay containing donor A. fumigatus strains carrying resistance-conferring mutated cyp51A, either in its chromosomal locus or in a self-replicating plasmid, and recipient strains that were hygromycin resistant and triazole sensitive. Donor and recipient A. fumigatus strains were cocultured and transferred to selective conditions, and the recipient strain tested for transferred triazole resistance. We found that chromosomal transfer of triazole resistance required selection under both voriconazole and hygromycin, resulting in diploid formation. Notably, plasmid-mediated transfer was also activated by voriconazole or hypoxic stress alone, suggesting a possible route to HGT of antifungal resistance in A. fumigatus, both in the environment and during host infection. This study provides, for the first time, preliminary experimental evidence for HGT mediating antifungal resistance in a pathogenic fungus. IMPORTANCE It is well known that bacteria can transfer antibiotic resistance from one strain to another by horizontal gene transfer (HGT), leading to the current worldwide crisis of rapidly emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, in fungi, HGT events have only been indirectly documented by whole-genome sequencing. This study directly examined fungal HGT of antibiotic resistance in a laboratory setting. We show that HGT of antifungal triazole resistance occurs in the important human fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Importantly, we show a plasmid-mediated transfer of triazole resistance occurs under conditions likely to prevail in the environment and in infected patients. This study provides an experimental foundation for future work identifying the drivers and mechanistic underpinnings of HGT in fungi.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


FundersFunder number
Israel-China Science Foundation2444/18


    • Aspergillus fumigatus
    • antifungal resistance
    • drug resistance
    • horizontal gene transfer
    • hyphal fusion
    • triazole antifungals


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