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1.  A Biphasic Innate Immune MAPK Response Discriminates between the Yeast and Hyphal Forms of Candida albicans in Epithelial Cells 
Cell Host & Microbe  2010;8(3):225-235.
Discriminating between commensal and pathogenic states of opportunistic pathogens is critical for host mucosal defense and homeostasis. The opportunistic human fungal pathogen Candida albicans is also a constituent of the normal oral flora and grows either as yeasts or hyphae. We demonstrate that oral epithelial cells orchestrate an innate response to C. albicans via NF-κB and a biphasic MAPK response. Activation of NF-κB and the first MAPK phase, constituting c-Jun activation, is independent of morphology and due to fungal cell wall recognition. Activation of the second MAPK phase, constituting MKP1 and c-Fos activation, is dependent upon hypha formation and fungal burdens and correlates with proinflammatory responses. Such biphasic response may allow epithelial tissues to remain quiescent under low fungal burdens while responding specifically and strongly to damage-inducing hyphae when burdens increase. MAPK/MKP1/c-Fos activation may represent a “danger response” pathway that is critical for identifying and responding to the pathogenic switch of commensal microbes.
► NF-κB and MAPK control epithelial effector responses against Candida albicans ► c-Jun activation is independent of morphology and due to fungal cell wall recognition ► MAPK/MKP-1/c-Fos pathway activation is dependent on fungal hyphae and burdens ► MAPK discriminatory response may dictate C. albicans mucosal colonization in vivo
PMCID: PMC2991069  PMID: 20833374
2.  Activation of MAPK/c-Fos induced responses in oral epithelial cells is specific to Candida albicans and Candida dubliniensis hyphae 
Oral epithelial cells detect the human pathogenic fungus Candida albicans via NF-κB and a bi-phasic mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling response. However, discrimination between C. albicans yeast and hyphal forms is mediated only by the MAPK pathway, which constitutes activation of the MAPK phosphatase MKP1 and the c-Fos transcription factor and is targeted against the hyphal form. Given that C. albicans is not the only Candida species capable of filamentation or causing mucosal infections, we sought to determine whether this MAPK/MKP1/c-Fos mediated response mechanism was activated by other pathogenic Candida species, including C. dubliniensis, C. tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, C. glabrata and C. krusei. Although all Candida species activated the NF-κB signaling pathway, only C. albicans and C. dubliniensis were capable of inducing MKP1 and c-Fos activation, which directly correlated with hypha formation. However, only C. albicans strongly induced cytokine production (G-CSF, GM-CSF, IL-6 and IL-1α) and cell damage. Candida dubliniensis, C. tropicalis and C. parapsilosis were also capable of inducing IL-1α and this correlated with mild cell damage and was dependent upon fungal burdens. Our data demonstrate that activation of the MAPK/MKP1/c-Fos pathway in oral epithelial cells is specific to C. dubliniensis and C. albicans hyphae.
PMCID: PMC3257392  PMID: 21706283
Candida albicans; Candida dubliniensis; Hypha formation; MAPK; MKP1; c-Fos; NF-κB; Oral epithelium; Innate immunity
3.  Candida albicans Yeast and Hyphae are Discriminated by MAPK Signaling in Vaginal Epithelial Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26580.
We previously reported that a bi-phasic innate immune MAPK response, constituting activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphatase MKP1 and c-Fos transcription factor, discriminates between the yeast and hyphal forms of Candida albicans in oral epithelial cells (ECs). Since the vast majority of mucosal Candida infections are vaginal, we sought to determine whether a similar bi-phasic MAPK-based immune response was activated by C. albicans in vaginal ECs. Here, we demonstrate that vaginal ECs orchestrate an innate response to C. albicans via NF-κB and MAPK signaling pathways. However, unlike in oral ECs, the first MAPK response, defined by c-Jun transcription factor activation, is delayed until 2 h in vaginal ECs but is still independent of hypha formation. The ‘second’ or ‘late’ MAPK response, constituting MKP1 and c-Fos transcription factor activation, is identical to oral ECs and is dependent upon both hypha formation and fungal burdens. NF-κB activation is immediate but independent of morphology. Furthermore, the proinflammatory response in vaginal ECs is different to oral ECs, with an absence of G-CSF and CCL20 and low level IL-6 production. Therefore, differences exist in how C. albicans activates signaling mechanisms in oral and vaginal ECs; however, the activation of MAPK-based pathways that discriminate between yeast and hyphal forms is retained between these mucosal sites. We conclude that this MAPK-based signaling pathway is a common mechanism enabling different human epithelial tissues to orchestrate innate immune responses specifically against C. albicans hyphae.
PMCID: PMC3210759  PMID: 22087232
4.  Candida albicans Cell Wall Glycosylation May Be Indirectly Required for Activation of Epithelial Cell Proinflammatory Responses ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(12):4902-4911.
Oral epithelial cells discriminate between the yeast and hyphal forms of Candida albicans via the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathway. This occurs through phosphorylation of the MAPK phosphatase MKP1 and activation of the c-Fos transcription factor by the hyphal form. Given that fungal cell wall polysaccharides are critical in host recognition and immune activation in myeloid cells, we sought to determine whether β-glucan and N- or O-glycosylation was important in activating the MAPK/MKP1/c-Fos hypha-mediated response mechanism and proinflammatory cytokines in oral epithelial cells. Using a series of β-glucan and N- and O-mannan mutants, we found that N-mannosylation (via Δoch1 and Δpmr1 mutants) and O-mannosylation (via Δpmt1 and Δmnt1 Δmnt2 mutants), but not phosphomannan (via a Δmnn4 mutant) or β-1,2 mannosylation (via Δbmt1 to Δbmt6 mutants), were required for MKP1/c-Fos activation, proinflammatory cytokine production, and cell damage induction. However, the N- and O-mannan mutants showed reduced adhesion or lack of initial hypha formation at 2 h, resulting in little MKP1/c-Fos activation, or restricted hypha formation/pseudohyphal formation at 24 h, resulting in minimal proinflammatory cytokine production and cell damage. Further, the α-1,6-mannose backbone of the N-linked outer chain (corresponding to a Δmnn9 mutant) may be required for epithelial adhesion, while the α-1,2-mannose component of phospholipomannan (corresponding to a Δmit1 mutant) may contribute to epithelial cell damage. β-Glucan appeared to play no role in adhesion, epithelial activation, or cell damage. In summary, N- and O-mannosylation defects affect the ability of C. albicans to induce proinflammatory cytokines and damage in oral epithelial cells, but this may be due to indirect effects on fungal pathogenicity rather than mannose residues being direct activators of the MAPK/MKP1/c-Fos hypha-mediated immune response.
PMCID: PMC3232641  PMID: 21930756
5.  Evaluation of the Role of Candida albicans Agglutinin-Like Sequence (Als) Proteins in Human Oral Epithelial Cell Interactions 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33362.
The fungus C. albicans uses adhesins to interact with human epithelial surfaces in the processes of colonization and pathogenesis. The C. albicans ALS (agglutinin-like sequence) gene family encodes eight large cell-surface glycoproteins (Als1-Als7 and Als9) that have adhesive function. This study utilized C. albicans Δals mutant strains to investigate the role of the Als family in oral epithelial cell adhesion and damage, cytokine induction and activation of a MAPK-based (MKP1/c-Fos) signaling pathway that discriminates between yeast and hyphae. Of the eight Δals mutants tested, only the Δals3 strain showed significant reductions in oral epithelial cell adhesion and damage, and cytokine production. High fungal:epithelial cell multiplicities of infection were able to rescue the cell damage and cytokine production phenotypes, demonstrating the importance of fungal burden in mucosal infections. Despite its adhesion, damage and cytokine induction phenotypes, the Δals3 strain induced MKP1 phosphorylation and c-Fos production to a similar extent as control cells. Our data demonstrate that Als3 is involved directly in epithelial adhesion but indirectly in cell damage and cytokine induction, and is not the factor targeted by oral epithelial cells to discriminate between the yeast and hyphal form of C. albicans.
PMCID: PMC3299778  PMID: 22428031
6.  Protection Against Epithelial Damage During Candida albicans Infection Is Mediated by PI3K/Akt and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2013;209(11):1816-1826.
Background. The ability of epithelial cells (ECs) to discriminate between commensal and pathogenic microbes is essential for healthy living. Key to these interactions are mucosal epithelial responses to pathogen-induced damage.
Methods. Using reconstituted oral epithelium, we assessed epithelial gene transcriptional responses to Candida albicans infection by microarray. Signal pathway activation was monitored by Western blotting and transcription factor enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, and the role of these pathways in C. albicans–induced damage protection was determined using chemical inhibitors.
Results. Transcript profiling demonstrated early upregulation of epithelial genes involved in immune responses. Many of these genes constituted components of signaling pathways, but only NF-κB, MAPK, and PI3K/Akt pathways were functionally activated. We demonstrate that PI3K/Akt signaling is independent of NF-κB and MAPK signaling and plays a key role in epithelial immune activation and damage protection via mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation.
Conclusions. PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling may play a critical role in protecting epithelial cells from damage during mucosal fungal infections independent of NF-κB or MAPK signaling.
PMCID: PMC4017362  PMID: 24357630
Akt; Candida albicans; epithelial; inflammation; fungal; PI3 kinase; damage; MAPK; c-Fos; microarray; mTOR
7.  A GATA Transcription Factor Recruits Hda1 in Response to Reduced Tor1 Signaling to Establish a Hyphal Chromatin State in Candida albicans 
PLoS Pathogens  2012;8(4):e1002663.
Candida albicans is an important opportunistic fungal pathogen of immunocompromised individuals. One critical virulence attribute is its morphogenetic plasticity. Hyphal development requires two temporally linked changes in promoter chromatin, which is sequentially regulated by temporarily clearing the transcription inhibitor Nrg1 upon activation of the cAMP/PKA pathway and promoter recruitment of the histone deacetylase Hda1 under reduced Tor1 signaling. Molecular mechanisms for the temporal connection and the link to Tor1 signaling are not clear. Here, through a forward genetic screen, we report the identification of the GATA family transcription factor Brg1 as the factor that recruits Hda1 to promoters of hypha-specific genes during hyphal elongation. BRG1 expression requires both the removal of Nrg1 and a sub-growth inhibitory level of rapamycin; therefore, it is a sensitive readout of Tor1 signaling. Interestingly, promoters of hypha-specific genes are not accessible to Brg1 in yeast cells. Furthermore, ectopic expression of Brg1 cannot induce hyphae, but can sustain hyphal development. Nucleosome mapping of a hypha-specific promoter shows that Nrg1 binding sites are in nucleosome free regions in yeast cells, whereas Brg1 binding sites are occupied by nucleosomes. Nucleosome disassembly during hyphal initiation exposes the binding sites for both regulators. During hyphal elongation, Brg1-mediated Hda1 recruitment causes nucleosome repositioning and occlusion of Nrg1 binding sites. We suggest that nucleosome repositioning is the underlying mechanism for the yeast-hyphal transition. The hypha-specific regulator Ume6 is a key downstream target of Brg1 and functions after Brg1 as a built-in positive feedback regulator of the hyphal transcriptional program to sustain hyphal development. With the levels of Nrg1 and Brg1 dynamically and sensitively controlled by the two major cellular growth pathways, temporal changes in nucleosome positioning during the yeast-to-hypha transition provide a mechanism for signal integration and cell fate specification. This mechanism is likely used broadly in development.
Author Summary
Candida is part of the gut microflora in healthy individuals, but can disseminate and cause systemic disease when the host's immune system is suppressed. Its ability to grow as yeast and hyphae in response to environmental cues is a major virulence attribute. Hyphal development requires temporary clearing of the transcription inhibitor Nrg1 upon activation of cAMP/PKA for initiation and promoter recruitment of the histone deacetylase Hda1 under reduced Tor1 signaling for maintenance. Here, we show that, during hyphal initiation when Nrg1 is gone, expression of the GATA family transcription factor Brg1 is activated under reduced Tor1 signaling. Accumulated Brg1 recruits Hda1 to hyphal promoters to reposition nucleosomes, leading to obstruction of Nrg1 binding sites and sustained hyphal development. The nucleosome repositioning during the yeast-hyphal transition provides a mechanism for temporal integration of extracellular signals and cell-fate specification. The hypha-specific transcription factor Ume6 functions after Brg1 in this succession of feed-forward regulation of hyphal development. Since misregulation of either Nrg1 or Ume6 causes altered virulence, and Brg1 regulates both Nrg1 accessibility and Ume6 transcription, our findings should provide a better understanding of how Candida controls its morphological program in different host niches to exist as a commensal and a pathogen.
PMCID: PMC3334898  PMID: 22536157
8.  The Pathogen Candida albicans Hijacks Pyroptosis for Escape from Macrophages 
mBio  2014;5(2):e00003-14.
The fungal pathogen Candida albicans causes macrophage death and escapes, but the molecular mechanisms remained unknown. Here we used live-cell imaging to monitor the interaction of C. albicans with macrophages and show that C. albicans kills macrophages in two temporally and mechanistically distinct phases. Early upon phagocytosis, C. albicans triggers pyroptosis, a proinflammatory macrophage death. Pyroptosis is controlled by the developmental yeast-to-hypha transition of Candida. When pyroptosis is inactivated, wild-type C. albicans hyphae cause significantly less macrophage killing for up to 8 h postphagocytosis. After the first 8 h, a second macrophage-killing phase is initiated. This second phase depends on robust hyphal formation but is mechanistically distinct from pyroptosis. The transcriptional regulator Mediator is necessary for morphogenesis of C. albicans in macrophages and the establishment of the wild-type surface architecture of hyphae that together mediate activation of macrophage cell death. Our data suggest that the defects of the Mediator mutants in causing macrophage death are caused, at least in part, by reduced activation of pyroptosis. A Mediator mutant that forms hyphae of apparently wild-type morphology but is defective in triggering early macrophage death shows a breakdown of cell surface architecture and reduced exposed 1,3 β-glucan in hyphae. Our report shows how Candida uses host and pathogen pathways for macrophage killing. The current model of mechanical piercing of macrophages by C. albicans hyphae should be revised to include activation of pyroptosis by hyphae as an important mechanism mediating macrophage cell death upon C. albicans infection.
Upon phagocytosis by macrophages, Candida albicans can transition to the hyphal form, which causes macrophage death and enables fungal escape. The current model is that the highly polarized growth of hyphae results in macrophage piercing. This model is challenged by recent reports of C. albicans mutants that form hyphae of wild-type morphology but are defective in killing macrophages. We show that C. albicans causes macrophage cell death by at least two mechanisms. Phase 1 killing (first 6 to 8 h) depends on the activation of the pyroptotic programmed host cell death by fungal hyphae. Phase 2 (up to 24 h) is rapid and depends on robust hyphal formation but is independent of pyroptosis. Our data provide a new model for how the interplay between fungal morphogenesis and activation of a host cell death pathway mediates macrophage killing by C. albicans hyphae.
PMCID: PMC3977349  PMID: 24667705
9.  Increased Inflammation, Impaired Bacterial Clearance, and Metabolic Disruption after Gram-Negative Sepsis in Mkp-1-Deficient Mice1 
MAPKs are crucial for TNF-α and IL-6 production by innate immune cells in response to TLR ligands. MAPK phosphatase 1 (Mkp-1) deactivates p38 and JNK, abrogating the inflammatory response. We have previously demonstrated that Mkp-1−/− mice exhibit exacerbated inflammatory cytokine production and increased mortality in response to challenge with LPS and heat-killed Staphylococcus aureus. However, the function of Mkp-1 in host defense during live Gram-negative bacterial infection remains unclear. We challenged Mkp-1+/+ and Mkp-1−/− mice with live Escherichia coli i.v. to examine the effects of Mkp-1 deficiency on animal survival, bacterial clearance, metabolic activity, and cytokine production. We found that Mkp-1 deficiency predisposed animals to accelerated mortality and was associated with more robust production of TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-10, greater bacterial burden, altered cyclooxygenase-2 and iNOS expression, and substantial changes in the mobilization of energy stores. Likewise, knockout of Mkp-1 also sensitized mice to sepsis caused by cecal ligation and puncture. IL-10 inhibition by neutralizing Ab or genetic deletion alleviated increased bacterial burden. Treatment with the bactericidal antibiotic gentamicin, given 3 h after Escherichia coli infection, protected Mkp-1+/+ mice from septic shock but had no effect on Mkp-1−/− mice. Thus, during Gram-negative bacterial sepsis Mkp-1 not only plays a critical role in the regulation of cytokine production but also orchestrates the bactericidal activities of the innate immune system and controls the metabolic response to stress.
PMCID: PMC2882055  PMID: 19890037
10.  Cell Cycle-Independent Phospho-Regulation of Fkh2 during Hyphal Growth Regulates Candida albicans Pathogenesis 
PLoS Pathogens  2015;11(1):e1004630.
The opportunistic human fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, undergoes morphological and transcriptional adaptation in the switch from commensalism to pathogenicity. Although previous gene-knockout studies have identified many factors involved in this transformation, it remains unclear how these factors are regulated to coordinate the switch. Investigating morphogenetic control by post-translational phosphorylation has generated important regulatory insights into this process, especially focusing on coordinated control by the cyclin-dependent kinase Cdc28. Here we have identified the Fkh2 transcription factor as a regulatory target of both Cdc28 and the cell wall biosynthesis kinase Cbk1, in a role distinct from its conserved function in cell cycle progression. In stationary phase yeast cells 2D gel electrophoresis shows that there is a diverse pool of Fkh2 phospho-isoforms. For a short window on hyphal induction, far before START in the cell cycle, the phosphorylation profile is transformed before reverting to the yeast profile. This transformation does not occur when stationary phase cells are reinoculated into fresh medium supporting yeast growth. Mass spectrometry and mutational analyses identified residues phosphorylated by Cdc28 and Cbk1. Substitution of these residues with non-phosphorylatable alanine altered the yeast phosphorylation profile and abrogated the characteristic transformation to the hyphal profile. Transcript profiling of the phosphorylation site mutant revealed that the hyphal phosphorylation profile is required for the expression of genes involved in pathogenesis, host interaction and biofilm formation. We confirmed that these changes in gene expression resulted in corresponding defects in pathogenic processes. Furthermore, we identified that Fkh2 interacts with the chromatin modifier Pob3 in a phosphorylation-dependent manner, thereby providing a possible mechanism by which the phosphorylation of Fkh2 regulates its specificity. Thus, we have discovered a novel cell cycle-independent phospho-regulatory event that subverts a key component of the cell cycle machinery to a role in the switch from commensalism to pathogenicity.
Author Summary
The fungus Candida albicans is a commensal in the human microbiota, responsible for superficial infections such as oral and vaginal thrush. However, it can become highly virulent, causing life-threatening systemic candidemia in severely immunocompromised patients, including those taking immunosuppressive drugs for transplantation, sufferers of AIDS and neutropenia, and individuals undergoing chemotherapy or at extremes of age. With a rapidly increasing ageing population worldwide, C. albicans and other fungal pathogens will become more prevalent, demanding a greater understanding of their pathogenesis for the development of effective therapeutics. Fungal pathogenicity requires a coordinated change in the pattern of gene expression orchestrated by a set of transcription factors. Here we have discovered that a transcription factor, Fkh2, is modified by phosphorylation under the control of the kinases Cdc28 and Cbk1 in response to conditions that activate virulence factor expression. Fkh2 is involved in a wide variety of cellular processes including cell proliferation, but this phosphorylation endows it with a specialized function in promoting the expression of genes required for tissue invasion, biofilm formation, and pathogenesis in the host. This study highlights the role of protein phosphorylation in regulating pathogenesis and furthers our understanding of the pathogenic switch in this important opportunistic fungal pathogen.
PMCID: PMC4305328  PMID: 25617770
11.  Mitogen-activated Protein Kinase Phosphatase-1 Represses c-Jun NH2-terminal Kinase-mediated Apoptosis via NF-κB Regulation* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2008;283(30):21011-21023.
The mechanism regulating radiation-induced anti-apoptotic response, a limiting factor in improving cell radiosensitivity, remains elusive. Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphatase (MKP)-1 is the major member of MKPs that dephosphorylates and inactivates MAPK. Here we provide the evidence that MKP-1 was negatively bridging between NF-κB-mediated prosurvival pathway and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK)-mediated proapoptotic response. MKP-1 was induced by γ-radiation and repressed radiation-induced pro-apoptotic status. NF-κB RelA/p50 heterodimer was recruited to MKP-1 gene promoter to induce MKP-1 transcription. Deletion of the NF-κB-binding site or inactivation of NF-κB by its small interfering RNA significantly decreased the radiation-induced MKP-1 promoter activity. In addition, MKP-1-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts exhibited a prolonged activation of JNK but not p38 or extracellular signal-regulated kinase subfamilies of MAPKs. The prolonged activation of JNK was not induced by treatment with tumor necrosis factor α or interleukin-6, and inactivation of JNK but not p38 or ERK abolished radiation-induced proapoptotic status, indicating that JNK is specifically inhibited by radiation-induced MKP-1. Three MKP-1 wild type human tumor cell lines treated with MKP-1 small interfering RNA showed an increased proapoptotic response that can be rescued by overexpression of wild type mouse MKP-1. Together, these results suggest that MKP-1 is a NF-κB-mediated prosurvival effector in attenuating JNK-mediated pro-apoptotic response; NF-κB/MKP-1-mediated negative JNK regulation represents a potential therapeutic target for adjusting cell radiosensitivity.
PMCID: PMC2475689  PMID: 18508759
12.  Regulation of MAPK signaling and cell death by MAPK phosphatase MKP2 
Plant Signaling & Behavior  2010;5(11):1497-1500.
Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways play crucial roles in developmental and adaptive responses. Depending on the stimulus, MAPK activation regulates a wide variety of plant cell responses, such as proliferation, differentiation and cell death, which normally require precise spatial and temporal control. In this context, protein phosphatases play important roles by regulating the duration and magnitude of MAPK activities. During infection by non-host and incompatible host microorganisms, MAPK activity can promote a local cell death mechanism called hypersensitive response (HR), which is part of the plant defence response. HR-like responses require sustained MAPK activity and correlate with oxidative burst. We recently showed that MAPK phosphatase MKP2 positively controls biotic and abiotic stress responses in Arabidopsis. MKP2 interacts with MPK6 in HR-like responses triggered by fungal elicitors, suggesting that MKP2 protein is part of the mechanism involved in MAPK regulation during HR. Here we discuss the interplay of MAPK and MKP2 phosphatase signaling during cell death responses elicited by host-pathogen interactions.
PMCID: PMC3115266  PMID: 21057191
Arabidopsis; hypersensitive response (HR); MAPK; MPK6; MKP2; ROS
13.  Transcriptomic Analysis of Vulvovaginal Candidiasis Identifies a Role for the NLRP3 Inflammasome 
mBio  2015;6(2):e00182-15.
Treatment of vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), caused most frequently by Candida albicans, represents a significant unmet clinical need. C. albicans, as both a commensal and a pathogenic organism, has a complex and poorly understood interaction with the vaginal environment. Understanding the complex nature of this relationship is necessary for the development of desperately needed therapies to treat symptomatic infection. Using transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq), we characterized the early murine vaginal and fungal transcriptomes of the organism during VVC. Network analysis of host genes that were differentially expressed between infected and naive mice predicted the activation or repression of several signaling pathways that have not been previously associated with VVC, including NLRP3 inflammasome activation. Intravaginal challenge of Nlrp3−/− mice with C. albicans demonstrated severely reduced levels of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNs), alarmins, and inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-1β (IL-1β) (the hallmarks of VVC immunopathogenesis) in vaginal lavage fluid. Intravaginal administration of wild-type (WT) mice with glyburide, a potent inhibitor of the NLRP3 inflammasome, reduced PMN infiltration and IL-1β to levels comparable to those observed in Nlrp3−/− mice. Furthermore, RNA-seq analysis of C. albicans genes indicated robust expression of hypha-associated secreted aspartyl proteinases 4, 5, and 6 (SAP4–6), which are known inflammasome activators. Despite colonization similar to that of the WT strain, ΔSAP4–6 triple and ΔSAP5 single mutants induced significantly less PMN influx and IL-1β during intravaginal challenge. Our findings demonstrate a novel role for the inflammasome in the immunopathogenesis of VVC and implicate the hypha-associated SAPs as major C. albicans virulence determinants during vulvovaginal candidiasis.
Vaginitis, most commonly caused by the fungus Candida albicans, results in significant quality-of-life issues for all women of reproductive age. Recent efforts have suggested that vaginitis results from an immunopathological response governed by host innate immunity, although an explanatory mechanism has remained undefined. Using comprehensive genomic, immunological, and pharmacological approaches, we have elucidated the NLRP3 inflammasome as a crucial molecular mechanism contributing to host immunopathology. We have also demonstrated that C. albicans hypha-associated secreted aspartyl proteinases (SAP4–6 and SAP5, more specifically) contribute to disease immunopathology. Ultimately, this study enhances our understanding of the complex interplay between host and fungus at the vaginal mucosa and provides proof-of-principle evidence for therapeutic targeting of inflammasomes for symptomatic vulvovaginal candidiasis.
PMCID: PMC4453569  PMID: 25900651
14.  Hyphal Development in Candida albicans Requires Two Temporally Linked Changes in Promoter Chromatin for Initiation and Maintenance 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(7):e1001105.
Phenotypic plasticity is common in development. For Candida albicans, the most common cause of invasive fungal infections in humans, morphological plasticity is its defining feature and is critical for its pathogenesis. Unlike other fungal pathogens that exist primarily in either yeast or hyphal forms, C. albicans is able to switch reversibly between yeast and hyphal growth forms in response to environmental cues. Although many regulators have been found involved in hyphal development, the mechanisms of regulating hyphal development and plasticity of dimorphism remain unclear. Here we show that hyphal development involves two sequential regulations of the promoter chromatin of hypha-specific genes. Initiation requires a rapid but temporary disappearance of the Nrg1 transcriptional repressor of hyphal morphogenesis via activation of the cAMP-PKA pathway. Maintenance requires promoter recruitment of Hda1 histone deacetylase under reduced Tor1 (target of rapamycin) signaling. Hda1 deacetylates a subunit of the NuA4 histone acetyltransferase module, leading to eviction of the NuA4 acetyltransferase module and blockage of Nrg1 access to promoters of hypha-specific genes. Promoter recruitment of Hda1 for hyphal maintenance happens only during the period when Nrg1 is gone. The sequential regulation of hyphal development by the activation of the cAMP-PKA pathway and reduced Tor1 signaling provides a molecular mechanism for plasticity of dimorphism and how C. albicans adapts to the varied host environments in pathogenesis. Such temporally linked regulation of promoter chromatin by different signaling pathways provides a unique mechanism for integrating multiple signals during development and cell fate specification.
Author Summary
Many organisms are able to change their phenotype in response to changes in the environment, a phenomenon referred to as plasticity. Candida albicans, a major opportunistic fungal pathogen of humans, can undergo reversible morphological changes between yeast (spherical) and hyphal (filamentous) forms of growth in response to environmental cues. This morphological plasticity is essential for its pathogenesis and survival in its hosts. In this study, we show that hyphal development is initiated and maintained by two major nutrient-sensing cellular growth pathways that act by removing the inhibition provided by the transcriptional repressor Nrg1. While initiation requires a rapid but temporary disappearance of Nrg1 via activation of the cAMP-dependent protein kinase A pathway, maintenance requires the recruitment to promoters of the Hda1 histone deacetylase under conditions of reduced signaling by the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase, leading to chromatin remodeling that blocks Nrg1 access to the promoters of hypha-specific genes. We observed that recruitment of Hda1 to promoters happens only during the time window when Nrg1 is absent. Such temporally linked regulation of promoter chromatin by different signaling pathways provides a unique mechanism for integrating multiple signals in the regulation of gene expression and phenotypic plasticity during development and cell fate specification.
PMCID: PMC3139633  PMID: 21811397
15.  MAP Kinase Phosphatase-2 Plays a Critical Role in Response to Infection by Leishmania mexicana 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001192.
In this study we generated a novel dual specific phosphatase 4 (DUSP4) deletion mouse using a targeted deletion strategy in order to examine the role of MAP kinase phosphatase-2 (MKP-2) in immune responses. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) induced a rapid, time and concentration-dependent increase in MKP-2 protein expression in bone marrow-derived macrophages from MKP-2+/+ but not from MKP-2−/− mice. LPS-induced JNK and p38 MAP kinase phosphorylation was significantly increased and prolonged in MKP-2−/− macrophages whilst ERK phosphorylation was unaffected. MKP-2 deletion also potentiated LPS-stimulated induction of the inflammatory cytokines, IL-6, IL-12p40, TNF-α, and also COX-2 derived PGE2 production. However surprisingly, in MKP-2−/− macrophages, there was a marked reduction in LPS or IFNγ-induced iNOS and nitric oxide release and enhanced basal expression of arginase-1, suggesting that MKP-2 may have an additional regulatory function significant in pathogen-mediated immunity. Indeed, following infection with the intracellular parasite Leishmania mexicana, MKP-2−/− mice displayed increased lesion size and parasite burden, and a significantly modified Th1/Th2 bias compared with wild-type counterparts. However, there was no intrinsic defect in MKP-2−/− T cell function as measured by anti-CD3 induced IFN-γ production. Rather, MKP-2−/− bone marrow-derived macrophages were found to be inherently more susceptible to infection with Leishmania mexicana, an effect reversed following treatment with the arginase inhibitor nor-NOHA. These findings show for the first time a role for MKP-2 in vivo and demonstrate that MKP-2 may be essential in orchestrating protection against intracellular infection at the level of the macrophage.
Author Summary
In cells of the immune system are switch-on enzymes called kinases which regulate responses to infectious agents such as Leishmania. However, in the same cells there are switch-off enzymes known as phosphatases which function to turn off the kinases once they have done their work. A lot of studies have focussed on the role of kinases but not phosphatases in response to infection; we therefore generated a novel mouse in which the gene for one of these phosphatases, called MKP-2, has been deleted. We found that in the absence of this phosphatase unexpected things happened. The profile of inflammatory proteins, produced by a special cell of the immune system, called a macrophage, that functions to regulate infection by Leishmania, changed in ways which meant the macrophage could either fight infection very effectively or very weakly. In actual fact, we found that the macrophages with no MKP-2 fought off Leishmania poorly and mice deficient in MKP-2 had a modified immune response favouring the growth of the parasite. This is the first study to give critical insight into the role of MKP-2 in fighting Leishmania infection and demonstrates very well the importance of this class of enzyme in pathogen biology.
PMCID: PMC2978729  PMID: 21085614
16.  Corticosteroids and β2-agonists upregulate mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase 1: in vitro mechanisms 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2012;166(7):2049-2059.
Airway remodelling is a consequence of long-term inflammation and MAPKs are key signalling molecules that drive pro-inflammatory pathways. The endogenous MAPK deactivator – MAPK phosphatase 1 (MKP-1) – is a critical negative regulator of the myriad pro-inflammatory pathways activated by MAPKs in the airway.
Herein we investigated the molecular mechanisms responsible for the upregulation of MKP-1 in airway smooth muscle (ASM) by the corticosteroid dexamethasone and the β2-agonist formoterol, added alone and in combination.
MKP-1 is a corticosteroid-inducible gene whose expression is enhanced by long-acting β2-agonists in an additive manner. Formoterol induced MKP-1 expression via the β2-adrenoceptor and we provide the first direct evidence (utilizing overexpression of PKIα, a highly selective PKA inhibitor) to show that PKA mediates β2-agonist-induced MKP-1 upregulation. Dexamethasone activated MKP-1 transcription in ASM cells via a cis-acting corticosteroid-responsive region located between −1380 and −1266 bp of the MKP-1 promoter. While the 3′-untranslated region of MKP-1 contains adenylate + uridylate elements responsible for regulation at the post-transcriptional level, actinomycin D chase experiments revealed that there was no increase in MKP-1 mRNA stability in the presence of dexamethasone, formoterol, alone or in combination. Rather, there was an additive effect of the asthma therapeutics on MKP-1 transcription.
Taken together, these studies allow us a greater understanding of the molecular basis of MKP-1 regulation by corticosteroids and β2-agonists and this new knowledge may lead to elucidation of optimized corticosteroid-sparing therapies in the future.
PMCID: PMC3402770  PMID: 22372570
airway smooth muscle; corticosteroids; β2-agonists; PKA; PKIα; glucocorticoid-response elements
17.  Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Phosphatase 1/Dual Specificity Phosphatase 1 Mediates Glucocorticoid Inhibition of Osteoblast Proliferation 
Steroid-induced osteoporosis is a common side effect of long-term treatment with glucocorticoid (GC) drugs. GCs have multiple systemic effects that may influence bone metabolism but also directly affect osteoblasts by decreasing proliferation. This may be beneficial at low concentrations, enhancing differentiation. However, high-dose treatment produces a severe deficit in the proliferative osteoblastic compartment. We provide causal evidence that this effect of GC is mediated by induction of the dual-specificity MAPK phosphatase, MKP-1/DUSP1. Excessive MKP-1 production is both necessary and sufficient to account for the impaired osteoblastic response to mitogens. Overexpression of MKP-1 after either GC treatment or transfection ablates the mitogenic response in osteoblasts. Knockdown of MKP-1 using either immunodepletion of MKP-1 before in vitro dephosphorylation assay or short interference RNA transfection prevents inactivation of ERK by GCs. Neither c-jun N-terminal kinase nor p38 MAPK is activated by the mitogenic cocktail in 20% fetal calf serum, but their activation by a DNA-damaging agent (UV irradiation) was inhibited by either GC treatment or overexpression of MKP-1, indicating regulation of all three MAPKs by MKP-1 in osteoblasts. However, an inhibitor of the MAPK/ERK kinase-ERK pathway inhibited osteoblast proliferation whereas inhibitors of c-jun N-terminal kinase or p38 MAPK had no effect, suggesting that ERK is the MAPK that controls osteoblast proliferation. Regulation of ERK by MKP-1 provides a novel mechanism for control of osteoblast proliferation by GCs.
PMCID: PMC2838148  PMID: 17761948
18.  The investigation of Mitogen-Activated Protein kinase Phosphatase-1 as a potential pharmacological target in non-small cell lung carcinomas, assisted by non-invasive molecular imaging 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:95.
Invasiveness and metastasis are the most common characteristics of non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and causes of tumour-related morbidity and mortality. Mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) signalling pathways have been shown to play critical roles in tumorigenesis. However, the precise pathological role(s) of mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase-1 (MKP-1) in different cancers has been controversial such that the up-regulation of MKP-1 in different cancers does not always correlate to a better prognosis. In this study, we showed that the induction of MKP-1 lead to a significant retardation of proliferation and metastasis in NSCLC cells. We also established that rosiglitazone (a PPARγ agonist) elevated MKP-1 expression level in NSCLC cells and inhibited tumour metastasis.
Both wildtype and dominant negative forms of MKP-1 were constitutively expressed in NSCLC cell line H441GL. The migration and invasion abilities of these cells were examined in vitro. MKP-1 modulating agents such as rosiglitazone and triptolide were used to demonstrate MKP-1's role in tumorigenesis. Bioluminescent imaging was utilized to study tumorigenesis of MKP-1 over-expressing H441GL cells and anti-metastatic effect of rosiglitazone.
Over-expression of MKP-1 reduced NSCLC cell proliferation rate as well as cell invasive and migratory abilities, evident by the reduced expression levels of MMP-2 and CXCR4. Mice inoculated with MKP-1 over-expressing H441 cells did not develop NSCLC while their control wildtype H441 inoculated littermates developed NSCLC and bone metastasis. Pharmacologically, rosiglitazone, a peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-γ (PPARγ) agonist appeared to induce MKP-1 expression while reduce MMP-2 and CXCR4 expression. H441GL-inoculated mice receiving daily oral rosiglitazone treatment demonstrated a significant inhibition of bone metastasis when compared to mice receiving sham treatment. We found that rosiglitazone treatment impeded the ability of cell migration and invasion in vitro. Cells pre-treated with triptolide (a MKP-1 inhibitor), reversed rosiglitazone-mediated cell invasion and migration.
The induction of MKP-1 could significantly suppress the proliferative and metastatic abilities of NSCLC both in vitro and in vivo. Therefore, MKP-1 could be considered as a potential therapeutic target in NSCLC therapy and PPARγ agonists could be explored for combined chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC2850900  PMID: 20226009
19.  Hsp90 Governs Echinocandin Resistance in the Pathogenic Yeast Candida albicans via Calcineurin 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(7):e1000532.
Candida albicans is the leading fungal pathogen of humans, causing life-threatening disease in immunocompromised individuals. Treatment of candidiasis is hampered by the limited number of antifungal drugs whose efficacy is compromised by host toxicity, fungistatic activity, and the emergence of drug resistance. We previously established that the molecular chaperone Hsp90, which regulates the form and function of diverse client proteins, potentiates resistance to the azoles in C. albicans and in the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Genetic studies in S. cerevisiae revealed that Hsp90's role in azole resistance is to enable crucial cellular responses to the membrane stress exerted by azoles via the client protein calcineurin. Here, we demonstrate that Hsp90 governs cellular circuitry required for resistance to the only new class of antifungals to reach the clinic in decades, the echinocandins, which inhibit biosynthesis of a critical component of the fungal cell wall. Pharmacological or genetic impairment of Hsp90 function reduced tolerance of C. albicans laboratory strains and resistance of clinical isolates to the echinocandins and created a fungicidal combination. Compromising calcineurin function phenocopied compromising Hsp90 function. We established that calcineurin is an Hsp90 client protein in C. albicans: reciprocal co-immunoprecipitation validated physical interaction; Hsp90 inhibition blocked calcineurin activation; and calcineurin levels were depleted upon genetic reduction of Hsp90. The downstream effector of calcineurin, Crz1, played a partial role in mediating calcineurin-dependent stress responses activated by echinocandins. Hsp90's role in echinocandin resistance has therapeutic potential given that genetic compromise of C. albicans HSP90 expression enhanced the efficacy of an echinocandin in a murine model of disseminated candidiasis. Our results identify the first Hsp90 client protein in C. albicans, establish an entirely new role for Hsp90 in mediating resistance to echinocandins, and demonstrate that targeting Hsp90 provides a promising therapeutic strategy for the treatment of life-threatening fungal disease.
Author Summary
Fungal pathogens pose a serious threat to people with compromised immune systems. Chief among the opportunistic fungal pathogens is Candida albicans. Treatment of C. albicans infections remains challenging because there are very few effective drugs and the pathogen has evolved many strategies to survive drug exposure. The echinocandins are the only new class of antifungal drug to reach the clinic in decades and they block biosynthesis of an essential component of the fungal cell wall. We discovered that the molecular chaperone Hsp90, which is required for its client proteins in the cell to fold and function, governs the ability of C. albicans to survive exposure to echinocandins. Compromising Hsp90 function renders the echinocandins more effective at killing C. albicans laboratory strains and clinical isolates. Hsp90 orchestrates the crucial responses to cell wall stress exerted by the echinocandins by enabling the function of its client protein calcineurin, which allows the fungus to survive otherwise lethal conditions. Our results suggest that compromising Hsp90 function provides a powerful and much-needed strategy to render existing antifungal drugs more effective in the treatment of life-threatening fungal infections.
PMCID: PMC2712069  PMID: 19649312
20.  Calcineurin Plays Key Roles in the Dimorphic Transition and Virulence of the Human Pathogenic Zygomycete Mucor circinelloides 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(9):e1003625.
Many pathogenic fungi are dimorphic and switch between yeast and filamentous states. This switch alters host-microbe interactions and is critical for pathogenicity. However, in zygomycetes, whether dimorphism contributes to virulence is a central unanswered question. The pathogenic zygomycete Mucor circinelloides exhibits hyphal growth in aerobic conditions but switches to multi-budded yeast growth under anaerobic/high CO2 conditions. We found that in the presence of the calcineurin inhibitor FK506, Mucor exhibits exclusively multi-budded yeast growth. We also found that M. circinelloides encodes three calcineurin catalytic A subunits (CnaA, CnaB, and CnaC) and one calcineurin regulatory B subunit (CnbR). Mutations in the latch region of CnbR and in the FKBP12-FK506 binding domain of CnaA result in hyphal growth of Mucor in the presence of FK506. Disruption of the cnbR gene encoding the sole calcineurin B subunit necessary for calcineurin activity yielded mutants locked in permanent yeast phase growth. These findings reveal that the calcineurin pathway plays key roles in the dimorphic transition from yeast to hyphae. The cnbR yeast-locked mutants are less virulent than the wild-type strain in a heterologous host system, providing evidence that hyphae or the yeast-hyphal transition are linked to virulence. Protein kinase A activity (PKA) is elevated during yeast growth under anaerobic conditions, in the presence of FK506, or in the yeast-locked cnbR mutants, suggesting a novel connection between PKA and calcineurin. cnaA mutants lacking the CnaA catalytic subunit are hypersensitive to calcineurin inhibitors, display a hyphal polarity defect, and produce a mixture of yeast and hyphae in aerobic culture. The cnaA mutants also produce spores that are larger than wild-type, and spore size is correlated with virulence potential. Our results demonstrate that the calcineurin pathway orchestrates the yeast-hyphal and spore size dimorphic transitions that contribute to virulence of this common zygomycete fungal pathogen.
Author Summary
Calcineurin is a Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent, serine/threonine-specific protein phosphatase. In pathogenic fungi, calcineurin is involved in morphogenesis and virulence. Therefore, calcineurin is an attractive antifungal drug target. The roles of calcineurin in virulence have been established in both major human pathogenic fungi (Candida species, Cryptococcus neoformans/gattii, Aspergillus fumigatus) and in plant pathogenic fungi (Magnaporthe oryzae, Ustilago maydis/hordei). However, the role of calcineurin is currently unknown in pathogenic zygomycetes. We found that the calcineurin inhibitors FK506 and cyclosporine A inhibit the growth of a prevalent zygomycete pathogen, Mucor. This fungus grows as multi-budded yeast under anaerobic conditions, and we have found that even in aerated culture (which without FK506 would result in abundant hyphal growth), Mucor exhibits yeast growth when exposed to FK506. Mucor cnbR mutants that lack the calcineurin regulatory subunit essential for calcineurin activity, are locked in perpetual yeast phase growth, indicating that calcineurin is required for hyphal growth. We further demonstrated that these yeast-locked mutants are attenuated for virulence, illustrating that hyphae or the yeast-hyphal transition are linked to virulence. These findings indicate that: 1) calcineurin governs the yeast/hyphae morphogenic transition; 2) a link exists between respiration and the calcineurin pathway; and 3) calcineurin inhibitors are attractive anti-mucormycosis drug candidates.
PMCID: PMC3764228  PMID: 24039585
21.  Acetylation of MKP-1 and the Control of Inflammation 
Science signaling  2008;1(41):pe44.
Innate immune responses mediated by Toll-like receptors (TLRs), a class of pattern-recognition receptors, play a critical role in the defense against microbial pathogens. However, excessive TLR-mediated responses result in sepsis, autoimmunity, and chronic inflammation. To prevent deleterious activation of TLRs, cells have evolved multiple mechanisms that inhibit innate immune reactions. Stimulation of TLRs induces the expression of the gene encoding the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) phosphatase-1 (MKP-1), a nuclear-localized dual-specificity phosphatase that preferentially dephosphorylates p38 MAPK and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), resulting in the attenuation of TLR-triggered production of proinflammatory cytokines. MKP-1 is posttranslationally modified by multiple mechanisms, including phosphorylation. A study now demonstrates that MKP-1 is also acetylated on a key lysine residue following stimulation of TLRs. Acetylation of MKP-1 promotes the interaction of MKP-1 with its substrate p38 MAPK, which results in dephosphorylation of p38 MAPK and the inhibition of innate immunity.
PMCID: PMC2613485  PMID: 18922786
22.  Metabolic Respiration Induces AMPK- and Ire1p-Dependent Activation of the p38-Type HOG MAPK Pathway 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(10):e1004734.
Evolutionarily conserved mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways regulate the response to stress as well as cell differentiation. In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, growth in non-preferred carbon sources (like galactose) induces differentiation to the filamentous cell type through an extracellular-signal regulated kinase (ERK)-type MAPK pathway. The filamentous growth MAPK pathway shares components with a p38-type High Osmolarity Glycerol response (HOG) pathway, which regulates the response to changes in osmolarity. To determine the extent of functional overlap between the MAPK pathways, comparative RNA sequencing was performed, which uncovered an unexpected role for the HOG pathway in regulating the response to growth in galactose. The HOG pathway was induced during growth in galactose, which required the nutrient regulatory AMP-dependent protein kinase (AMPK) Snf1p, an intact respiratory chain, and a functional tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. The unfolded protein response (UPR) kinase Ire1p was also required for HOG pathway activation in this context. Thus, the filamentous growth and HOG pathways are both active during growth in galactose. The two pathways redundantly promoted growth in galactose, but paradoxically, they also inhibited each other's activities. Such cross-modulation was critical to optimize the differentiation response. The human fungal pathogen Candida albicans showed a similar regulatory circuit. Thus, an evolutionarily conserved regulatory axis links metabolic respiration and AMPK to Ire1p, which regulates a differentiation response involving the modulated activity of ERK and p38 MAPK pathways.
Author Summary
In fungal species, differentiation to the filamentous/hyphal cell type is critical for entry into host cells and virulence. Comparative RNA sequencing was used to explore the pathways that regulate differentiation to the filamentous cell type in yeast. This approach uncovered a role for the stress-response MAPK pathway, HOG, during the increased metabolic respiration that induces filamentous growth. In this context, the AMPK Snf1p and ER stress kinase Ire1p regulated the HOG pathway. Cross-modulation between the HOG and filamentous growth (ERK-type) MAPK pathways optimized the differentiation response. The regulatory circuit described here may extend to behaviors in metazoans.
PMCID: PMC4214603  PMID: 25356552
23.  Dendritic Cells Discriminate between Yeasts and Hyphae of the Fungus Candida albicans 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2000;191(10):1661-1674.
The fungus Candida albicans behaves as a commensal as well as a true pathogen of areas highly enriched in dendritic cells, such as skin and mucosal surfaces. The ability of the fungus to reversibly switch between unicellular yeast to filamentous forms is thought to be important for virulence. However, whether it is the yeast or the hyphal form that is responsible for pathogenicity is still a matter of debate. Here we show the interaction, and consequences, of different forms of C. albicans with dendritic cells. Immature myeloid dendritic cells rapidly and efficiently phagocytosed both yeasts and hyphae of the fungus. Phagocytosis occurred through different phagocytic morphologies and receptors, resulting in phagosome formation. However, hyphae escaped the phagosome and were found lying free in the cytoplasm of the cells. In vitro, ingestion of yeasts activated dendritic cells for interleukin (IL)-12 production and priming of T helper type 1 (Th1) cells, whereas ingestion of hyphae inhibited IL-12 and Th1 priming, and induced IL-4 production. In vivo, generation of antifungal protective immunity was induced upon injection of dendritic cells ex vivo pulsed with Candida yeasts but not hyphae. The immunization capacity of yeast-pulsed dendritic cells was lost in the absence of IL-12, whereas that of hypha-pulsed dendritic cells was gained in the absence of IL-4. These results indicate that dendritic cells fulfill the requirement of a cell uniquely capable of sensing the two forms of C. albicans in terms of type of immune responses elicited. By the discriminative production of IL-12 and IL-4 in response to the nonvirulent and virulent forms of the fungus, dendritic cells appear to meet the challenge of Th priming and education in C. albicans saprophytism and infections.
PMCID: PMC2193147  PMID: 10811860
Candida albicans; yeast; hyphae; dendritic cells; cytokines
24.  Therapeutic Potential of Thiazolidinedione-8 as an Antibiofilm Agent against Candida albicans 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e93225.
Candida albicans is known as a commensal microorganism but it is also the most common fungal pathogen in humans, causing both mucosal and systemic infections. Biofilm-associated C. albicans infections present clinically important features due to their high levels of resistance to traditional antifungal agents. Quorum sensing is closely associated with biofilm formation and increasing fungal pathogenicity. We investigated the ability of the novel bacterial quorum sensing quencher thiazolidinedione-8 (S-8) to inhibit the formation of, and eradication of mature C. albicans biofilms. In addition, the capability of S-8 to alter fungal adhesion to mammalian cells was checked. S-8 exhibited specific antibiofilm and antiadhesion activities against C. albicans, at four- to eightfold lower concentrations than the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC). Using fluorescence microscopy, we observed that S-8 dose-dependently reduces C. albicans–GFP binding to RAW macrophages. S-8 at sub-MICs also interfered with fungal morphogenesis by inhibiting the yeast-to-hyphal form transition. In addition, the tested agent strongly affected fungal cell wall characteristics by modulating its hydrophobicity. We evaluated the molecular mode of S-8 antibiofilm and antiadhesion activities using real-time RT-PCR. The expression levels of genes associated with biofilm formation, adhesion and filamentation, HWP1, ALS3 and EAP1, respectively, were dose-dependently downregulated by S-8. Transcript levels of UME6, responsible for long-term hyphal maintenance, were also significantly decreased by the tested agent. Both signaling pathways of hyphal formation-cAMP-PKA and MAPK-were interrupted by S-8. Their upstream general regulator RAS1 was markedly suppressed by S-8. In addition, the expression levels of MAPK cascade components CST20, HST7 and CPH1 were downregulated by S-8. Finally, transcriptional repressors of filament formation, TUP1 and NRG1, were dramatically upregulated by our compound. Our results indicate that S-8 holds a novel antibiofilm therapeutic mean in the treatment and prevention of biofilm-associated C. albicans infections.
PMCID: PMC4010395  PMID: 24796422
25.  Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) and Vav1 Contribute to Dectin1-Dependent Phagocytosis of Candida albicans in Macrophages 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(6):e1003446.
Phagocytosis of the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans by cells of the innate immune system is vital to prevent infection. Dectin-1 is the major phagocytic receptor involved in anti-fungal immunity. We identify two new interacting proteins of Dectin-1 in macrophages, Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) and Vav1. BTK and Vav1 are recruited to phagocytic cups containing C. albicans yeasts or hyphae but are absent from mature phagosomes. BTK and Vav1 localize to cuff regions surrounding the hyphae, while Dectin-1 lines the full length of the phagosome. BTK and Vav1 colocalize with the lipid PI(3,4,5)P3 and F-actin at the phagocytic cup, but not with diacylglycerol (DAG) which marks more mature phagosomal membranes. Using a selective BTK inhibitor, we show that BTK contributes to DAG synthesis at the phagocytic cup and the subsequent recruitment of PKCε. BTK- or Vav1-deficient peritoneal macrophages display a defect in both zymosan and C. albicans phagocytosis. Bone marrow-derived macrophages that lack BTK or Vav1 show reduced uptake of C. albicans, comparable to Dectin1-deficient cells. BTK- or Vav1-deficient mice are more susceptible to systemic C. albicans infection than wild type mice. This work identifies an important role for BTK and Vav1 in immune responses against C. albicans.
Author Summary
The opportunistic yeast Candida albicans is a commensal organism of the human digestive tract, but also the most common cause of human fungal infections. Phagocytosis, the process by which innate immune cells engulf pathogens, is vital to prevent C. albicans infections. The major phagocytic receptor involved in anti-fungal immunity is Dectin-1. We identify two new interacting proteins of Dectin-1 in macrophages: Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) and Vav1. In the course of phagocytosis, different phosphoinositides (PIs) are formed in the phagosomal membrane to allow the recruitment of proteins equipped with specialized lipid-interaction domains. We show that BTK and Vav1 colocalize with the lipid PI(3,4,5)P3 at the phagocytic cup, but not with diacylglycerol (DAG), which marks more mature phagosomal membranes. Inhibition of BTK affects the production of DAG and the recruitment of DAG-interacting proteins. BTK and Vav1 are essential for C. albicans immune responses, as BTK- or Vav1-deficient macrophages show reduced uptake of C. albicans and BTK- or Vav1-deficient deficient mice are more susceptible to systemic C. albicans infection. This work identifies an important role for BTK and Vav1 in immune responses against C. albicans.
PMCID: PMC3694848  PMID: 23825946

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