Sterol 14-α-demethylase is vital for mitochondrial functions and stress tolerance in Leishmania major

Sumit Mukherjee, Samrat Moitra, Wei Xu, Veronica Hernandez, Kai Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Sterol 14-α-demethylase (C14DM) is a key enzyme in the biosynthesis of sterols and the primary target of azoles. In Leishmania major, genetic or chemical inactivation of C14DM leads to accumulation of 14-methylated sterol intermediates and profound plasma membrane abnormalities including increased fluidity and failure to maintain ordered membrane microdomains. These defects likely contribute to the hypersensitivity to heat and severely reduced virulence displayed by the C14DM-null mutants (c14dm). In addition to plasma membrane, sterols are present in intracellular organelles. In this study, we investigated the impact of C14DM ablation on mitochondria. Our results demonstrate that c14dm mutants have significantly higher mitochondrial membrane potential than wild type parasites. Such high potential leads to the buildup of reactive oxygen species in the mitochondria, especially under nutrient-limiting conditions. Consistent with these mitochondrial alterations, c14dm mutants show impairment in respiration and are heavily dependent on glucose uptake and glycolysis to generate energy. Consequently, these mutants are extremely sensitive to glucose deprivation and such vulnerability can be rescued through the supplementation of glucose or glycerol. In addition, the accumulation of oxidants may also contribute to the heat sensitivity exhibited by c14dm. Finally, genetic or chemical ablation of C14DM causes increased susceptibility to pentamidine, an antimicrobial agent with activity against trypanosomatids. In summary, our investigation reveals that alteration of sterol synthesis can negatively affect multiple cellular processes in Leishmania parasites and make them vulnerable to clinically relevant stress conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008810
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020


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