Nanoscale biophysical properties of the cell surface galactosaminogalactan from the fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus
Many fungal pathogens produce cell surface polysaccharides that play essential roles in host–pathogen interactions. In Aspergillus fumigatus, the newly discovered polysaccharide galactosaminogalactan (GAG) mediates adherence to a variety of substrates through molecular mechanisms that are poorly understood. Here we use atomic force microscopy to unravel the localization and adhesion of GAG on living fungal cells. Using single-molecule imaging with tips bearing anti-GAG antibodies, we found that GAG is massively exposed on wild-type (WT) germ tubes, consistent with the notion that this glycopolymer is secreted by the mycelium of A. fumigatus, while it is lacking on WT resting conidia and on germ tubes from a mutant (Δuge3) deficient in GAG. Imaging germ tubes with tips bearing anti-β-glucan antibodies shows that exposure of β-glucan is strongly increased in the Δuge3 mutant, indicating that this polysaccharide is masked by GAG during hyphal growth. Single-cell force measurements show that expression of GAG on germ tubes promotes specific adhesion to pneumocytes and non-specific adhesion to hydrophobic substrates. These results provide a molecular foundation for the multifunctional adhesion properties of GAG, thus suggesting it could be used as a potential target in anti-adhesion therapy and immunotherapy. Our methodology represents a powerful approach for characterizing the nanoscale organization and adhesion of cell wall polysaccharides during fungal morphogenesis, thereby contributing to increase our understanding of their role in biofilm formation and immune responses.