Co-option of an extracellular protease for transcriptional control of nutrient degradation in the fungus Aspergillus nidulans
Commun Biol. 2021 Dec 17;4(1):1409. doi: 10.1038/s42003-021-02925-1.
Nutrient acquisition is essential for all organisms. Fungi regulate their metabolism according to environmental nutrient availability through elaborate transcription regulatory programs. In filamentous fungi, a highly conserved GATA transcription factor AreA and its co-repressor NmrA govern expression of genes involved in extracellular breakdown, uptake, and metabolism of nitrogen nutrients. Here, we show that the Aspergillus nidulans PnmB protease is a moonlighting protein with extracellular and intracellular functions for nitrogen acquisition and metabolism. PnmB serves not only as a secreted protease to degrade extracellular nutrients, but also as an intracellular protease to control the turnover of the co-repressor NmrA, accelerating AreA transcriptional activation upon nitrogen starvation. PnmB expression is controlled by AreA, which activates a positive feedback regulatory loop. Hence, we uncover a regulatory mechanism in the well-established controls determining the response to nitrogen starvation, revealing functional evolution of a protease gene for transcriptional regulation and extracellular nutrient breakdown.