G3 Genes|Genomes|Genetics, Volume 11, Issue 2, February 2021
Several Candida species can undergo a heritable and reversible transition from a ‘white’ state to a mating proficient ‘opaque’ state. This ability relies on highly interconnected transcriptional networks that control cell-type-specific gene expression programs over multiple generations. Candida albicans, the most prominent pathogenic Candida species, provides a well-studied paradigm for the white-opaque transition. In this species, a network of at least eight transcriptional regulators controls the balance between white and opaque states that have distinct morphologies, transcriptional profiles, and physiological properties. Given the reversible nature and the high frequency of white-opaque transitions, it is widely assumed that this switch is governed by epigenetic mechanisms that occur independently of any changes in DNA sequence. However, a direct genomic comparison between white and opaque cells has yet to be performed. Here, we present a whole-genome comparative analysis of C. albicans white and opaque cells. This analysis revealed rare genetic changes between cell states, none of which are linked to white-opaque switching. This result is consistent with epigenetic mechanisms controlling cell state differentiation in C. albicans and provides direct evidence against a role for genetic variation in mediating the switch.