Exploiting the vulnerable active site of a copper-only superoxide dismutase to disrupt fungal pathogenesis

Natalie G. Robinett, Edward M. Culbertson, Ryan L. Peterson, Hiram Sanchez, David R. Andes, Jeniel E. Nett, Valeria C. Culotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Copper-only superoxide dismutases (SODs) represent a new class of SOD enzymes that are exclusively extracellular and unique to fungi and oomycetes. These SODs are essential for virulence of fungal pathogens in pulmonary and disseminated infections, and we show here an additional role for copper-only SODs in promoting survival of fungal biofilms. The opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans expresses three copper-only SODs, and deletion of one of them, SOD5, eradicated can-didal biofilms on venous catheters in a rodent model. Fungal copper-only SODs harbor an irregular active site that, unlike their Cu,Zn-SOD counterparts, contains a copper co-factor unusually open to solvent and lacks zinc for stabilizing copper binding, making fungal copper-only SODs highly vulnerable to metal chelators. We found that unlike mammalian Cu,Zn-SOD1, C. albicans SOD5 indeed rapidly loses its copper to metal chelators such as EDTA, and binding constants for Cu(II) predict that copper-only SOD5 has a much lower affinity for copper than does Cu,Zn-SOD1. We screened compounds with a variety of indications and identified several metal-binding compounds, including the ionophore pyrithione zinc (PZ), that effectively inhibit C. albicans SOD5 but not mammalian Cu,Zn-SOD1. We observed that PZ both acts as an ionophore that promotes uptake of toxic metals and inhibits copper-only SODs. The pros and cons of a vulnerable active site for copper-only SODs and the possible exploitation of this vulnerability in antifungal drug design are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2700-2713
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 22 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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