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Fungi, bacteria, and plants, but not animals, synthesize the branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. While branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) biosynthesis has been well characterized in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it is incompletely understood in filamentous fungi. The three BCAAs share several early biosynthesis steps before divergence into specific pathways. In Aspergillus nidulans, the genes for the first two dedicated steps in leucine biosynthesis have been characterized, but the final two have not. We used sequence searches of the A. nidulans genome to identify two genes encoding β-isopropylmalate dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the penultimate step of leucine biosynthesis, and six genes encoding BCAA aminotransferase, which catalyzes the final step in biosynthesis of all three BCAA. We have used combinations of gene knockouts to determine the relative contribution of each of these genes to BCAA biosynthesis. While both β-isopropylmalate dehydrogenase genes act in leucine biosynthesis, the two most highly expressed BCAA aminotransferases are responsible for BCAA biosynthesis. We have also characterized the expression of leucine biosynthesis genes using reverse transcriptase-quantitative PCR and found regulation in response to leucine availability is mediated through the Zn(II)2Cys6 transcription factor LeuB. IMPORTANCE Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) biosynthesis is important for pathogenic fungi to successfully cause disease in human and plant hosts. The enzymes for their production are absent from humans and, therefore, provide potential antifungal targets. While BCAA biosynthesis is well characterized in yeasts, it is poorly understood in filamentous fungal pathogens. Developing a thorough understanding of both the genes encoding the metabolic enzymes for BCAA biosynthesis and how their expression is regulated will inform target selection for antifungal drug development.

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Department of Plant Pathology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, USA.