The ALS gene family of Candida albicans consists of eight genes (ALS1 to ALS7 and ALS9) that encode cell-wall glycoproteins involved in adhesion to host surfaces. Considerable allelic sequence variability has been documented for regions of ALS genes encoding repeated sequences. Although regions of ALS genes encoding non-repeated sequences tend to be more conserved, some sequence divergence has been noted, particularly for alleles of ALS5. Data from the C. albicans genome sequencing project provided the first indication that strain SC5314 encoded two divergent ALS9-like sequences and that three of the ALS genes (ALS5, ALS1 and ALS9) were contiguous on chromosome 6. Data from PCR analysis and construction of both single and double deletion mutants indicated that the divergent sequences were alleles of ALS9, and located downstream of ALS5 and ALS1. Sequences within the 5′ domain of ALS9-1 and ALS9-2 varied by 11%. Within the 3′ domain of each allele, extra nucleotides were present in two regions of ALS9-2, designated Variable Block 1 (VB1) and Variable Block 2 (VB2). Analysis of strains from the five major C. albicans genetic clades showed that both ALS9 alleles are widespread among these strains, that the sequences of ALS9-1 and ALS9-2 are conserved among diverse strains and that recombinant ALS9 alleles have been generated during C. albicans evolution. Phylogenetic analysis showed that, although divergent in sequence, ALS9 alleles are more similar to each other than to any other ALS genes. The degree of sequence divergence for ALS9 greatly exceeds that observed previously for other ALS genes and may result in functional differences for the proteins encoded by the two alleles.
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