Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps) contribute to the ability of Candida albicans to cause mucosal and disseminated infections. A model of vaginal candidiasis based on reconstituted human vaginal epithelium (RHVE) was used to study the expression and role of these C. albicans proteinases during infection and tissue damage of vaginal epithelium. Colonization of the RHVE by C. albicans SC5314 did not cause any visible epithelial damage 6 h after inoculation, although expression of SAP2, SAP9, and SAP10 was detected by reverse transcriptase PCR. However, significant epithelial damage was observed after 12 h, concomitant with the additional expression of SAP1, SAP4, and SAP5. Additional transcripts of SAP6 and SAP7 were detected at a later stage of the artificial infection (24 h). Similar SAP expression profiles were observed in three samples isolated from human patients with vaginal candidiasis. In experimental infection, secretion of antigens Sap1 to Sap6 by C. albicans was confirmed at the ultrastructural level by using polyclonal antisera raised against Sap1 to Sap6. Addition of the aspartyl proteinase inhibitors pepstatin A and the human immunodeficiency virus proteinase inhibitors ritonavir and amprenavir strongly reduced the tissue damage of the vaginal epithelia by C. albicans cells. Furthermore, SAP null mutants lacking either SAP1 or SAP2 had a drastically reduced potential to cause tissue damage even though SAP3, SAP4, and SAP7 were up-regulated in these mutants. In contrast the vaginopathic potential of mutants lacking SAP3 or SAP4 to SAP6 was not reduced compared to wild-type cells. These data provide further evidence for a crucial role of Sap1 and Sap2 in C. albicans vaginal infections.
The polymorphic species Candida albicans is the major cause of candidiasis in humans. The secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps) of C. albicans, encoded by a family of 10 SAP genes, have been investigated as the virulent factors during candidiasis. However, the biological functions of most Sap proteins are still uncertain. In this study, we applied co-culture system of C. albicans and THP-1 human monocytes to explore the pathogenic roles and biological functions of Sap proteinases.
After 1 hr of co-culture of C. albicans strains and THP-1 human monocytes at 37°C, more than 60% of the THP-1-engulfed wild type and Δsap5 Candida cells were developing long hyphae. However, about 50% of THP-1-engulfed Δsap6 Candida cells were generating short hyphae, and more dead Candida cells were found in Δsap6 strain that was ingested by THP-1 cells (about 15% in Δsap6 strain vs. 2 ~ 2.5% in SC5314 and Δsap5 strains). The immunofluorescence staining demonstrated that the Sap6 is the major hyphal tip located Sap protein under THP-1 phagocytosis. The sap6-deleted strains (Δsap6, Δsap4/6, and Δsap5/6) appeared slower growth on Congo red containing solid medium at 25°C, and the growth defect was exacerbated when cultured at 37°C in Congo red or SDS containing medium. In addition, more proteins were secreted from Δsap6 strain and the β-mercaptoethanol (β-ME) extractable surface proteins from Δsap6 mutant were more abundant than that of extracted from wild type strain, which included the plasma membrane protein (Pma1p), the ER-chaperone protein (Kar2p), the protein transport-related protein (Arf1p), the cytoskeleton protein (Act1), and the mitochondrial outer membrane protein (porin 1). Moreover, the cell surface accessibility was increased in sap6-deleted strains.
From these results, we speculated that the cell surface constitution of C. albicans Δsap6 strain was defect. This may cause the more accessible of β-ME to disulfide-bridged cell surface components and may weaken the resistance of Δsap6 strain encountering phagocytosis of THP-1 cells. Sap6 protein displays a significant function involving in maintenance the cell surface integrity.
Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps); Candidiasis; Cell surface integrity
Candida albicans secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps) are considered virulence-associated factors. Several members of the Sap family were claimed to play a significant role in the progression of candidiasis established by the hematogenous route. This assumption was based on the observed attenuated virulence of sap-null mutant strains. However, the exclusive contribution of SAP genes to their attenuated phenotype was not unequivocally confirmed, as the Ura status of these mutant strains could also have contributed to the attenuation. In this study, we have reassessed the importance of SAP1 to SAP6 in a murine model of hematogenously disseminated candidiasis using sap-null mutant strains not affected in their URA3 gene expression and compared their virulence phenotypes with those of Ura-blaster sap mutants. The median survival time of BALB/c mice intravenously infected with a mutant strain lacking SAP1 to SAP3 was equivalent to that of mice infected with wild-type strain SC5314, while those infected with mutant strains lacking SAP5 showed slightly extended survival times. Nevertheless, no differences could be observed between the wild type and a Δsap456 mutant in their abilities to invade mouse kidneys. Likewise, a deficiency in SAP4 to SAP6 had no noticeable impact on the immune response elicited in the spleens and kidneys of C. albicans-infected mice. These results contrast with the behavior of equivalent Ura-blaster mutants, which presented a significant reduction in virulence. Our results suggest that Sap1 to Sap6 do not play a significant role in C. albicans virulence in a murine model of hematogenously disseminated candidiasis and that, in this model, Sap1 to Sap3 are not necessary for successful C. albicans infection.
The ability to change between yeast and hyphal cells (dimorphism) is known to be a virulence property of the human pathogen Candida albicans. The pathogenesis of disseminated candidosis involves adhesion and penetration of hyphal cells from a colonized mucosal site to internal organs. Parenchymal organs, such as the liver and pancreas, are invaded by C. albicans wild-type hyphal cells between 4 and 24 h after intraperitoneal (i.p.) infection of mice. In contrast, a hypha-deficient mutant lacking the transcription factor Efg1 was not able to invade or damage these organs. To investigate whether this was due to the inability to undergo the dimorphic transition or due to the lack of hypha-associated factors, we investigated the role of secreted aspartic proteinases during tissue invasion and their association with the different morphologies of C. albicans. Wild-type cells expressed a distinct pattern of SAP genes during i.p. infections. Within the first 72 h after infection, SAP1, SAP2, SAP4, SAP5, SAP6, and SAP9 were the most commonly expressed proteinase genes. Sap1 to Sap3 antigens were found on yeast and hyphal cells, while Sap4 to Sap6 antigens were predominantly found on hyphal cells in close contact with host cells, in particular, eosinophilic leukocytes. Mutants lacking EFG1 had either noticeably reduced or higher expressed levels of SAP4 to SAP6 transcripts in vitro depending on the culture conditions. During infection, efg1 mutants had a strongly reduced ability to produce hyphae, which was associated with reduced levels of SAP4 to SAP6 transcripts. Mutants lacking SAP1 to SAP3 had invasive properties indistinguishable from those of wild-type cells. In contrast, a triple mutant lacking SAP4 to SAP6 showed strongly reduced invasiveness but still produced hyphal cells. When the tissue damage of liver and pancreas caused by single sap4, sap5, and sap6 and double sap4 and -6, sap5 and -6, and sap4 and -5 double mutants was compared to the damage caused by wild-type cells, all mutants which lacked functional SAP6 showed significantly reduced tissue damage. These data demonstrate that strains which produce hyphal cells but lack hypha-associated proteinases, particularly that encoded by SAP6, are less invasive. In addition, it can be concluded that the reduced virulence of hypha-deficient mutants is not only due to the inability to form hyphae but also due to modified expression of the SAP genes normally associated with the hyphal morphology.
Peritonitis with Candida albicans is an important
complication of bowel perforation and continuous ambulatory peritoneal
dialysis. To define potential virulence factors, we investigated 50
strains of C. albicans in a murine peritonitis model. There
was considerable variation in their virulence in this model when
virulence was measured as release of organ-specific enzymes into the
plasma of infected mice. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and α-amylase
(AM) were used as parameters for damage of the liver and pancreas,
respectively. The activities of ALT and AM in the plasma correlated
with invasion into the organs measured in histologic sections and the
median germ tube length induced with serum in vitro. When the activity
of proteinases was inhibited in vivo with pepstatin A, there was a
significant reduction of ALT and AM activities. This indicates that
proteinases contributed to virulence in this model. Using strains of
C. albicans with disruption of secreted aspartyl proteinase
gene SAP1, SAP2, SAP3, or
SAP4 through SAP6 (collectively referred to as
SAP4-6), we showed that only a Δsap4-6 triple
mutant induced a significantly reduced activity of ALT in comparison to
the reference strain. In contrast to the Δsap1,
Δsap2, and Δsap3 mutants, the ALT induced
by the Δsap4-6 mutant could not be further reduced by
pepstatin A treatment, which indicates that Sap4-6 may contribute to
virulence in this model.
Secreted aspartyl proteinases are putative virulence factors in Candida infections. Candida albicans possesses at least nine members of a SAP gene family, all of which have been sequenced. Although the expression of the SAP genes has been extensively characterized under laboratory growth conditions, no studies have analyzed in detail the in vivo expression of these proteinases in human oral colonization and infection. We have developed a reliable and sensitive procedure to detect C. albicans mRNA from whole saliva of patients with oral C. albicans infection and those with asymptomatic Candida carriage. The reverse transcription-PCR protocol was used to determine which of the SAP1 to SAP7 genes are expressed by C. albicans during colonization and infection of the oral cavity. SAP2 and the SAP4 to SAP6 subfamily were the predominant proteinase genes expressed in the oral cavities of both Candida carriers and patients with oral candidiasis; SAP4, SAP5, or SAP6 mRNA was detected in all subjects. SAP1 and SAP3 transcripts were observed only in patients with oral candidiasis. SAP7 mRNA expression, which has never been demonstrated under laboratory conditions, was detected in several of the patient samples. All seven SAP genes were simultaneously expressed in some patients with oral candidiasis. This is the first detailed study showing that the SAP gene family is expressed by C. albicans during colonization and infection in humans and that C. albicans infection is associated with the differential expression of individual SAP genes which may be involved in the pathogenesis of oral candidiasis.
Candida albicans infections are often associated with biofilm formation. Previous work demonstrated that the expression of HWP1 (hyphal wall protein) and of genes belonging to the ALS (agglutinin-like sequence), SAP (secreted aspartyl protease), PLB (phospholipase B) and LIP (lipase) gene families is associated with biofilm growth on mucosal surfaces. We investigated using real-time PCR whether genes encoding potential virulence factors are also highly expressed in biofilms associated with abiotic surfaces. For this, C. albicans biofilms were grown on silicone in microtiter plates (MTP) or in the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) reactor, on polyurethane in an in vivo subcutaneous catheter rat (SCR) model, and on mucosal surfaces in the reconstituted human epithelium (RHE) model.
HWP1 and genes belonging to the ALS, SAP, PLB and LIP gene families were constitutively expressed in C. albicans biofilms. ALS1-5 were upregulated in all model systems, while ALS9 was mostly downregulated. ALS6 and HWP1 were overexpressed in all models except in the RHE and MTP, respectively. The expression levels of SAP1 were more pronounced in both in vitro models, while those of SAP2, SAP4 and SAP6 were higher in the in vivo model. Furthermore, SAP5 was highly upregulated in the in vivo and RHE models. For SAP9 and SAP10 similar gene expression levels were observed in all model systems. PLB genes were not considerably upregulated in biofilms, while LIP1-3, LIP5-7 and LIP9-10 were highly overexpressed in both in vitro models. Furthermore, an elevated lipase activity was detected in supernatans of biofilms grown in the MTP and RHE model.
Our findings show that HWP1 and most of the genes belonging to the ALS, SAP and LIP gene families are upregulated in C. albicans biofilms. Comparison of the fold expression between the various model systems revealed similar expression levels for some genes, while for others model-dependent expression levels were observed. This suggests that data obtained in one biofilm model cannot be extrapolated to other model systems. Therefore, the need to use multiple model systems when studying the expression of genes encoding potential virulence factors in C. albicans biofilms is highlighted.
Ten secreted aspartyl proteinase (Sap) genes were identified in Candida albicans. The products of SAP genes are considered to be virulent factors of C. albicans that participated in causing mucocutaneous and systemic candidiasis in humans. Depending on environmental conditions, C. albicans may stay in yeast-form or convert into invasive hypha-form, and these issues may affect the expression of SAP genes. In this study we explored the component(s) of culture media that may affect the expression of hypha-associated SAP genes.
We demonstrate that glucose levels modulate both the hyphae development and the expression strength of hypha-associated SAP genes (SAP4-6). In contrast to high glucose concentration (2%), lower glucose level (0.1%) is more potent to promote hyphae development and to promptly elicit the expression of hypha-associated Sap proteins during yeast-to-hypha transition of C. albicans. Both Cph1-mediated MAP kinase cascade and Efg1-mediated cAMP/PKA pathway, although the latter seemed dominant, participate in convey the glucose signaling to regulate the expression of hypha-associated SAP genes and this glucose level effect may perform at very early stage of yeast-to-hypha transition. In addition, when C. albicans was co-cultured with THP-1 human monocytes, the engulfed C. albicans was developing hypha efficiently within 1 hr and the expression of hypha-associated Sap proteins could be detected on the distal surface of hyphae.
We propose that the glucose level of bloodstream (approximately 0.1%) may be facilitated for stimulation of C. albicans to develop invasive hypha-form and to elicit promptly production of high-level hypha-associated Sap proteins.
Candida albicans; Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps); Glucose levels; Candidiasis
Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps) are important virulence factors of Candida albicans during mucosal and disseminated infections and may also contribute to the induction of an inflammatory host immune response. We used a model of vaginal candidiasis based on reconstituted human vaginal epithelium (RHVE) to study the epithelial cytokine response induced by C. albicans. In order to study the impact of the overall proteolytic activity and of distinct Sap isoenzymes, we studied the effect of the proteinase inhibitor pepstatin A on the immune response and compared the cytokine expression pattern induced by the wild-type strain SC5314 with the pattern induced by Sap-deficient mutants. Infection of RHVE with the C. albicans wild-type strain induced strong interleukin 1α (IL-1α), IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, gamma interferon, and tumor necrosis factor alpha responses in comparison with cytokine expression in noninfected tissue. Addition of the aspartyl proteinase inhibitor pepstatin A strongly reduced the cytokine response of RHVE. Furthermore, SAP-null mutants lacking either SAP1 or SAP2 caused reduced tissue damage and had a significantly reduced potential to stimulate cytokine expression. In contrast, the vaginopathic and cytokine-inducing potential of mutants lacking SAP4 to SAP6 was similar to that of the wild-type strain. These data show that the potential of specific Saps to cause tissue damage correlates with an epithelium-induced proinflammatory cytokine response, which may be crucial in controlling and managing C. albicans infections at the vaginal mucosa in vivo.
The opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans can cause superficial as well as systemic infections. Successful adaptation to the different host niches encountered during infection requires coordinated expression of various virulence traits, including the switch between yeast and hyphal growth forms and secretion of aspartic proteinases. Using an in vivo expression technology that is based on genetic recombination as a reporter of gene activation during experimental candidiasis in mice, we investigated whether two signal transduction pathways controlling hyphal growth, a mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade ending in the transcriptional activator Cph1p and a cyclic AMP-dependent regulatory pathway that involves the transcription factor Efg1p, also control expression of the SAP5 gene, which encodes one of the secreted aspartic proteinases and is induced by host signals soon after infection. Our results show that both transcriptional regulators are important for SAP5 activation in vivo. SAP5 expression was reduced in a cph1 mutant, although filamentous growth in infected tissue was not detectably impaired. SAP5 expression was also reduced, but not eliminated, in an efg1 null mutant, although this strain grew exclusively in the yeast form in infected tissue, demonstrating that in contrast to in vitro conditions, SAP5 activation during infection does not depend on growth of C. albicans in the hyphal form. In a cph1 efg1 double mutant, however, SAP5 expression in infected mice was almost completely eliminated, suggesting that the two signal transduction pathways are important for SAP5 expression in vivo. The avirulence of the cph1 efg1 mutant seemed to be caused not only by the inability to form hyphae but also by a loss of expression of additional virulence genes in the host.
Vaginal infections caused by the opportunistic yeast Candida albicans are a significant problem in women of child-bearing age. Several factors are recognized as playing a crucial role in the pathogenesis of superficial candidiasis; these factors include hyphal formation, phenotypic switching, and the expression of virulence factors, including a 10-member family of secreted aspartic proteinases. In the present investigation, we analyzed the secreted aspartic proteinase gene (SAP) expression profile of C. albicans that is elicited in the course of vaginal infection in mice and how this in vivo expression profile is associated with hyphal formation. We utilized two different genetic reporter systems that allowed us to observe SAP expression on a single-cell basis, a recombination-based in vivo expression technology and green fluorescent protein-expressing Candida reporter strains. Of the six SAP genes that were analyzed (SAP1 to SAP6), only SAP4 and SAP5 were detectably induced during infection in this model. Expression of both of these genes was associated with hyphal growth, although not all hyphal cells detectably expressed SAP4 and SAP5. SAP5 expression was induced soon after infection, whereas SAP4 was expressed at later times and in fewer cells compared with SAP5. These findings point to a link between morphogenetic development and expression of virulence genes during Candida vaginitis in mice, where host signals induce both hyphal formation and expression of SAP4 and SAP5, but temporal gene expression patterns are ultimately controlled by other factors.
Several strains of Candida albicans were compared for their ability to cause vaginal infection in a rat model, and their vaginopathic potentials were correlated with the expression of two aspartyl proteinases genes (SAP1 and SAP2) and adherence in vivo to the vaginal epithelium. Dot blot reactions and Northern blot analysis with RNA extracted from the vaginal fluid of rats infected with the highly vaginopathic strains H12 and 10261 demonstrated the expression of both SAP1 and SAP2 during the first week of infection. In contrast, neither gene was expressed during infection by a nonvaginopathic strain (N), even though the organism could be recovered during the first 24 h postinfection. A moderately vaginopathic strain (P) also expressed both genes, but the level of SAP1 mRNA appeared to decrease prior to that of SAP2. Neither gene was expressed, even by the highly vaginopathic strains, after the first week of infection, concomitant with a decrease in the number of organisms recovered from the vaginas. Analysis of in vivo adherence showed that the nonvaginopathic strain (N) adhered to vaginal epithelial cells less readily than the highly vaginopathic strain (H12) and moderately vaginopathic strain (P). Thus, in addition to its inability to express SAP1 and SAP2 in vivo, the nonvaginopathic strain does not colonize host cells to the same extent as the other strains tested. Our results demonstrate the early in vivo expression of two aspartyl proteinase gene during candidal vaginitis and suggest its association with the establishment of a vaginal infection.
Two karyotypes of oral Candida albicans isolates, named b and c, constituted >80% of a collection from healthy carriers (22 b and 16 c isolates) and oral candidiasis patients who were either infected (31 b and 16 c isolates) or uninfected (13 b and 38 c isolates) with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The prevalence of the b and c karyotypes within HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients, respectively, who were suffering from oral candidiasis (P ≤ 0.0001) suggested that these two types possessed different virulence potentials. Since C. albicans proteinases (Saps) are virulence factors in oral candidiasis, we evaluated whether the b and c karyotypes secreted different levels of Saps and expressed different patterns of Sap-encoding genes (SAP1-10). We found that the mean value of Sap activity was significantly lower (P = 0.003) in the commensal type than in the infectious b karyotype, whereas Sap activity in the commensal c type was as high as that registered for the infectious c strains. Marked differences in SAP mRNA expression were observed in commensal strains under non-Sap-inducing conditions, with all SAP genes being expressed only by strains with the c karyotype; interestingly, none of the commensal b strains expressed SAP2. In addition, while all of the SAP1-10 genes were detectable under Sap-inducing conditions, the timing of their expression during growth differed significantly, with mRNAs of SAP1-10 genes detected at 8 and 24 h postinoculation in c and b commensal strains, respectively. This provides the first evidence that commensal oral C. albicans isolates with distinct karyotypes are characterized by different patterns of SAP1-10 gene expression and different levels of Sap secretion.
For the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans, secreted aspartyl proteinase (Sap) activity has been correlated with virulence. A family consisting of at least eight SAP genes can be drawn upon to produce Sap enzymatic activity. In this study, the levels of Sap1, Sap2, and Sap3 isoenzymes were monitored under a variety of growth conditions for several strains, including strain WO-1, which alternates between two switch phenotypes, white (W) and opaque (O). When cultured under proteinase-inducing conditions, most strains and W cells produce Sap2, while O cells produce Sap1, Sap2, and Sap3. Both W and O cells of strain WO-1 produce Saps in enriched and defined media that do not induce Saps from other strains. The specific Sap isoenzyme that is produced is determined by the cell type, while the level of Sap production is determined by environmental factors. The levels and temporal regulation of the SAP mRNAs as determined by Northern (RNA) analysis were consistent with Sap protein levels and with previous results. S1 analysis showed that SAP6 is the predominant SAP gene transcribed during hyphal induction at neutral pH. These studies define the culture conditions which control the levels of SAP mRNAs and Sap proteins, and they indicate that both the yeast/hyphal transition and phenotypic switching can determine which of the Sap isoenzymes is produced.
Candida albicans is the most common fungal pathogen of humans and has developed an extensive repertoire of putative virulence mechanisms that allows successful colonization and infection of the host under suitable predisposing conditions. Extracellular proteolytic activity plays a central role in Candida pathogenicity and is produced by a family of 10 secreted aspartyl proteinases (Sap proteins). Although the consequences of proteinase secretion during human infections is not precisely known, in vitro, animal, and human studies have implicated the proteinases in C. albicans virulence in one of the following seven ways: (i) correlation between Sap production in vitro and Candida virulence, (ii) degradation of human proteins and structural analysis in determining Sap substrate specificity, (iii) association of Sap production with other virulence processes of C. albicans, (iv) Sap protein production and Sap immune responses in animal and human infections, (v) SAP gene expression during Candida infections, (vi) modulation of C. albicans virulence by aspartyl proteinase inhibitors, and (vii) the use of SAP-disrupted mutants to analyze C. albicans virulence. Sap proteins fulfill a number of specialized functions during the infective process, which include the simple role of digesting molecules for nutrient acquisition, digesting or distorting host cell membranes to facilitate adhesion and tissue invasion, and digesting cells and molecules of the host immune system to avoid or resist antimicrobial attack by the host. We have critically discussed the data relevant to each of these seven criteria, with specific emphasis on how this proteinase family could contribute to Candida virulence and pathogenesis.
Candida albicans and Candida dubliniensis are closely related species displaying differences in virulence and genome content, therefore providing potential opportunities to identify novel C. albicans virulence genes. C. albicans gene arrays were used for comparative analysis of global gene expression in the two species in reconstituted human oral epithelium (RHE). C. albicans (SC5314) showed upregulation of hypha-specific and virulence genes within 30 min postinoculation, coinciding with rapid induction of filamentation and increased RHE damage. C. dubliniensis (CD36) showed no detectable upregulation of hypha-specific genes, grew as yeast, and caused limited RHE damage. Several genes absent or highly divergent in C. dubliniensis were upregulated in C. albicans. One such gene, SFL2 (orf19.3969), encoding a putative heat shock factor, was deleted in C. albicans. ΔΔsfl2 cells failed to filament under a range of hypha-inducing conditions and exhibited greatly reduced RHE damage, reversed by reintroduction of SFL2 into the ΔΔsfl2 strain. Moreover, SFL2 overexpression in C. albicans triggered hyphal morphogenesis. Although SFL2 deletion had no apparent effect on host survival in the murine model of systemic infection, ΔΔsfl2 strain-infected kidney tissues contained only yeast cells. These results suggest a role for SFL2 in morphogenesis and an indirect role in C. albicans pathogenesis in epithelial tissues.
Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps), encoded by a gene family with at least nine members (SAP1 to SAP9), are one of the most discussed virulence factors produced by the human pathogen Candida albicans. In order to study the role of each Sap isoenzyme in pathogenicity, we have constructed strains which harbor mutations at selected SAP genes. SAP1, SAP2, and SAP3, which are regulated differentially in vitro, were mutated by targeted gene disruption. The growth rates of all homozygous null mutants were similar to those of the isogenic wild-type parental strain (SC5314) in complex and defined media. In medium with protein as the sole source of nitrogen, sap1 and sap3 mutants grew with reduced growth rates but reached optical densities similar to those measured for SC5314. In contrast, sap2 null mutants tended to clump, grew poorly in this medium, and produced the lowest proteolytic activity. Addition of ammonium ions reversed such growth defects. These results support the view that Sap2 is the dominant isoenzyme. When sap1, sap2, and sap3 mutants were injected intravenously in guinea pigs and mice, the animals had increased survival rates compared to those of control animals infected with SC5314. However, reduction of proteolytic activity in vitro did not correlate directly with the extent of attenuation of virulence observed for all Sap-deficient mutants. These data suggest that SAP1, SAP2, and SAP3 all contribute to the overall virulence of C. albicans and presumably all play important roles during disseminated infections.
Secreted aspartyl proteinases (Saps) from Candida albicans are encoded by a multigene family with at least nine members (SAP1 to SAP9) and are considered putative virulence factors important for the pathogenicity of this human pathogen. The role of Sap isoenzymes in the virulence of C. albicans has not yet been clearly established, and therefore, using recent progress in the genetics of this yeast, we have constructed a panel of isogenic yeasts, each with a disruption of one or several SAP genes. We focused on the construction of a C. albicans strain in which three related SAP genes (SAP4, SAP5, and SAP6) were disrupted. Growth of the delta sap4,5,6 triple homozygous null mutant DSY459 in complex medium was not affected, whereas, interestingly, growth in a medium containing protein as the sole nitrogen source was severely impaired compared to the growth of the wild-type parent strain SC5314. Since the presence of Sap2 is required for optimal growth on such medium, this suggests that Sap4, Sap5, or Sap6 plays an important role for the process of induction of SAP2. When guinea pigs and mice were injected intravenously with DSY459, their survival time was significantly longer than that of control animals infected with the wild-type SC5314. Attenuated virulence of DSY459 was followed by a significant reduction of yeast cells in infected organs. These data suggest that the group of Sap4, Sap5, and Sap6 isoenzymes is important for the normal progression of systemic infection by C. albicans in animals.
The yeast Candida albicans possesses a gene family that encodes secreted aspartic proteases (Saps), which are important for the virulence of this human fungal pathogen. Inhibitors of the Saps could therefore be used as novel antimycotic agents for the treatment of C. albicans infections. In the present study, we established a bioassay which allows testing of the activity of potential protease inhibitors against specific Sap isoenzymes by their ability to inhibit protease-dependent growth of C. albicans. In a medium containing bovine serum albumin (BSA) as the sole source of nitrogen, C. albicans specifically expresses the Sap2p isoenzyme, which degrades the BSA and thereby enables the fungus to grow. As the other SAP genes are not significantly expressed under these conditions, mutants lacking SAP2 are unable to utilize BSA as a nitrogen source and cannot grow in such a medium. To investigate whether forced expression of SAP genes other than SAP2 would also allow growth on BSA, we constructed a set of strains expressing each of the 10 SAP genes from a tetracycline-inducible promoter in a sap2Δ mutant background. Expression of Sap1p, Sap2p, Sap3p, Sap4p, Sap5p, Sap6p, Sap8p, and a C-terminally truncated, secreted Sap9p restored the growth of the sap2Δ mutant with different efficiencies. This set of strains was then used to test the activities of various aspartic protease inhibitors against specific Sap isoenzymes by monitoring growth on BSA in the presence of the inhibitors. While pepstatin blocked the activity of all of the Saps tested, the human immunodeficiency virus protease inhibitors ritonavir and saquinavir inhibited growth of the strains expressing Sap1p to Sap3p and Sap1p, respectively, but not that of strains expressing other Saps. Therefore, the strain set can be used to test the activity of new protease inhibitors against individual C. albicans Sap isoenzymes by their ability to block the growth of the pathogen.
The secreted aspartyl proteinases of Candida albicans (products of the SAP genes) are thought to contribute to virulence through their effects on Candida adherence, invasion, and pathogenicity. From a single strain of C. albicans (WO-1) which expresses a phenotypic switching system, three secreted aspartyl proteinases have been identified as determined by molecular weight and N-terminal sequence. Each of the three identified proteins represents the mature form of one of three distinct proteinase isoenzymes, two of which correspond to the recently cloned SAP1 and SAP2 genes (previously referred to as CAP, PEP, or PRA). A genomic library was screened under low-stringency hybridization conditions with a polymerase chain reaction fragment from SAP1. In addition to clones of SAP1 and SAP2, a clone containing SAP3, a novel third secreted proteinase gene, was identified and sequenced. The three aspartyl proteinase isoenzymes differ in primary sequence and pI, suggesting that they may play different roles in virulence and pathogenesis. All three of these proteinases are expressed in the same strain. However, the pattern of proteinase expression is correlated with the switch phenotype of the cell. Opaque cells of strain WO-1 express Sap1 and Sap3, while white cells of the same strain express Sap2. The differential expression of three Sap proteinases may contribute to virulence in C. albicans.
The ability to change from yeast to hyphal morphology is a major virulence determinant of Candida albicans. Mutants with defined defects in filamentation regulatory pathways have reduced virulence in mice. However, is it poorly understood why hyphal formation is critical for C. albicans to cause hematogenously disseminated infections. We used recently constructed mutants to examine the role of hyphal formation in the interactions of C. albicans with endothelial cells in vitro. These interactions included the ability of the mutants to invade and injure endothelial cells. Because the formation of hyphae may influence the host inflammatory response to C. albicans, we also investigated the capacity of these mutants to stimulate endothelial cells to express E-selectin and intercellular adhesion molecule 1. We infected endothelial cells with C. albicans strains containing homozygous null mutations in the following filamentation regulatory genes: CLA4, CPH1, EFG1, and TUP1. Whereas the wild-type strain formed true hyphae on endothelial cells, we found that neither the Δefg1 nor the Δcph1 Δefg1 double mutant germinated. The Δtup1 mutant formed only pseudohyphae. We also found that the Δefg1, Δcph1 Δefg1, and Δtup1 mutants had significantly reduced capacities to invade and injure endothelial cells. Therefore, Efg1p and Tup1p contribute to virulence by regulating hyphal formation and the factors that enable C. albicans to invade and injure endothelial cells. With the exception of the Δcph1 Δefg1 mutant, all other mutants stimulated endothelial cells to express at least one of the leukocyte adhesion molecules. Therefore, the combined activities of Cph1p and Efg1p are required for C. albicans to stimulate a proinflammatory response in endothelial cells.
The role of antibodies (Abs) in the resistance to vaginal infection by Candida albicans was investigated by using a rat vaginitis model. Animals receiving antimannoprotein (anti-MP) and anti-aspartyl proteinase (Sap) Ab-containing vaginal fluids from rats clearing a primary C. albicans infection showed a highly significant level of protection against vaginitis compared to animals given Ab-free vaginal fluid from noninfected rats. Preabsorption of the Ab-containing fluids with either one or both proteins MP and Sap sequentially reduced or abolished, respectively, the level of protection. A degree of protection against vaginitis was also conferred by postinfectious administration of anti-Sap and anti-MP monoclonal antibodies (provided the latter were directed against mannan rather than protein epitopes of MP) and by intravaginal immunization with a highly purified, polysaccharide-free Sap preparation. Postinfectious administration of pepstatin A, a potent Sap inhibitor, greatly accelerated the clearance of C. albicans from rat vagina. No anti-MP or anti-Sap Abs were elicited during a C. albicans vaginal infection of congenitally athymic nude rats. Although they were as able as their euthymic counterparts to clear the primary infection, these animals did not show increased resistance to a rechallenge, demonstrating that induction of anticandidal protection in normal rats was a thymus-dependent Ab response. Overall, our data strengthen the concept that Abs against some defined Candida antigens are relevant in the mechanism of acquired anticandidal protection in vaginitis. The T-cell dependence of this protection may also provide a link between cell-mediated and humoral immunity in vaginal infection.
The ability of Candida albicans to invade mucosal tissues is a major virulence determinant of this organism; however, the mechanism of invasion is not understood in detail. Proteolytic breakdown of E-cadherin, the major protein in epithelial cell junctions, has been proposed as a mechanism of invasion of certain bacteria in the oral mucosa. The objectives of this study were (i) to assess whether C. albicans degrades E-cadherin expressed by oral epithelial cells in vitro; (ii) to compare the abilities of strains with different invasive potentials to degrade this protein; and (iii) to investigate fungal virulence factors responsible for E-cadherin degradation. We found that while E-cadherin gene expression was not altered, E-cadherin was proteolytically degraded during the interaction of oral epithelial cells with C. albicans. Moreover, C. albicans-mediated degradation of E-cadherin was completely inhibited in the presence of protease inhibitors. Using a three-dimensional model of the human oral mucosa, we found that E-cadherin was degraded in localized areas of tissue invasion by C. albicans. An invasion-deficient rim101−/rim101− strain was deficient in degradation of E-cadherin, and this finding suggested that proteases may depend on Rim101p for expression. Indeed, reverse transcription-PCR data indicated that expression of the SAP4, SAP5, and SAP6 genes is severely reduced in the rim101−/rim101− mutant. These SAP genes are functional Rim101p targets, because engineered expression of SAP5 in the rim101−/rim101− strain restored E-cadherin degradation and invasion in the mucosal model. Our data support the hypothesis that there is a mechanism by which C. albicans invades mucosal tissues by promoting the proteolytic degradation of E-cadherin in epithelial adherens junctions.
Vaginal isolates of Candida albicans from human immunodeficiency virus-positive (HIV+) and HIV− women with or without candidal vaginitis were examined for secretory aspartyl proteinase (Sap) production in vitro and in vivo and for the possible correlation of Sap production with pathology and antimycotic susceptibility in vitro. HIV+ women with candidal vaginitis were infected by strains of C. albicans showing significantly higher levels of Sap, a virulence enzyme, than strains isolated from HIV+, C. albicans carrier subjects and HIV− subjects with vaginitis. The greater production of Sap in vitro was paralleled by greater amounts of Sap in the vaginal fluids of infected subjects. In an estrogen-dependent, rat vaginitis model, a strain of C. albicans producing a high level of Sap that was isolated from an HIV+ woman with vaginitis was more pathogenic than a strain of C. albicans that was isolated primarily from an HIV−, Candida carrier. In the same model, pepstatin A, a strong Sap inhibitor, exerted a strong curative effect on experimental vaginitis. No correlation was found between Sap production and antimycotic susceptibility, as most of the isolates were fully susceptible to fluconazole, itraconazole, and other antimycotics, regardless of their source (subjects infected with strains producing high or low levels of Sap, subjects with vaginitis or carrier subjects, or subjects with or without HIV). Thus, high Sap production is associated with virulence of C. albicans but not with fungal resistance to fluconazole in HIV-infected subjects, and Sap is a potentially new therapeutic target in candidal vaginitis.
Candida albicans, a commensal organism, is a part of the normal flora of healthy individuals. However, once the host immunity is compromised, C. albicans opportunistically causes recurrent superficial or fatal systemic candidiasis. Secreted aspartic proteases (Sap), encoded by 10 types of SAP genes, have been suggested to contribute to various virulence processes. Thus, it is important to elucidate their biochemical properties for better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that how Sap isozymes damage host tissues.
The SAP7 gene was cloned from C. albicans SC5314 and heterogeneously produced by Pichia pastoris. Measurement of Sap7 proteolytic activity using the FRETS-25Ala library showed that Sap7 was a pepstatin A-insensitive protease. To understand why Sap7 was insensitive to pepstatin A, alanine substitution mutants of Sap7 were constructed. We found that M242A and T467A mutants had normal proteolytic activity and sensitivity to pepstatin A. M242 and T467 were located in close proximity to the entrance to an active site, and alanine substitution at these positions widened the entrance. Our results suggest that this alteration might allow increased accessibility of pepstatin A to the active site. This inference was supported by the observation that the T467A mutant has stronger proteolytic activity than the wild type.
We found that Sap7 was a pepstatin A-insensitive protease, and that M242 and T467 restricted the accessibility of pepstatin A to the active site. This finding will lead to the development of a novel protease inhibitor beyond pepstatin A. Such a novel inhibitor will be an important research tool as well as pharmaceutical agent for patients suffering from candidiasis.