The amino acid cysteine has long been known to be toxic at elevated levels for bacteria, fungi, and humans. However, mechanisms of cysteine tolerance in microbes remain largely obscure. Here we show that the human pathogenic yeast Candida albicans excretes sulfite when confronted with increasing cysteine concentrations. Mutant construction and phenotypic analysis revealed that sulfite formation from cysteine in C. albicans relies on cysteine dioxygenase Cdg1, an enzyme with similar functions in humans. Environmental cysteine induced not only the expression of the CDG1 gene in C. albicans, but also the expression of SSU1, encoding a putative sulfite efflux pump. Accordingly, the deletion of SSU1 resulted in enhanced sensitivity of the fungal cells to both cysteine and sulfite. To study the regulation of sulfite/cysteine tolerance in more detail, we screened a C. albicans library of transcription factor mutants in the presence of sulfite. This approach and subsequent independent mutant analysis identified the zinc cluster transcription factor Zcf2 to govern sulfite/cysteine tolerance, as well as cysteine-inducible SSU1 and CDG1 gene expression. cdg1Δ and ssu1Δ mutants displayed reduced hypha formation in the presence of cysteine, indicating a possible role of the newly proposed mechanisms of cysteine tolerance and sulfite secretion in the pathogenicity of C. albicans. Moreover, cdg1Δ mutants induced delayed mortality in a mouse model of disseminated infection. Since sulfite is toxic and a potent reducing agent, its production by C. albicans suggests diverse roles during host adaptation and pathogenicity.
Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) plays an important role in glycolysis but also in non-metabolic processes, including transcription activation and apoptosis. We report the isolation of an hGAPDH (2-32) fragment peptide from human placental tissue exhibiting antimicrobial activity. The peptide was internalized by cells of the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans and initiated a rapid apoptotic mechanism, leading to killing of the fungus. Killing was dose-dependent, with 10 µg/ml (3.1 µM) and 100 µg/ml hGAPDH (2-32) depolarizing 45% and 90% of the fungal cells in a population, respectively. Experimental C. albicans infection induced epithelial hGAPDH (2-32) expression. Addition of the peptide significantly reduced the tissue damage as compared to untreated experimental infection. Secreted aspartic proteinases (Saps) activity of C. albicans was inhibited by the fragment at higher concentrations with an ED50 of 160 mg/l (50 μM) for Sap1p and 200 mg/l (63 μM) for Sap2p while Sap3 was not inhibited at all. Interestingly, hGAPDH (2-32) induced significant epithelial IL-8 and GM-CSF secretion and stimulated TLR4 expression at low concentrations independently of the presence of C. albicans without any toxic mucosal effects.
In the future, the combination of different antifungal strategies, e.g. a conventional fungicidal with immunomodulatory effects and the inhibition of fungal virulence factors might be a promising treatment option.
GAPDH; antimicrobial peptide; secreted aspartic proteases; reconstituted human oral epithelium (RHE)
The opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans has a remarkable ability to adapt to unfavorable environments by different mechanisms, including microevolution. For example, a previous study has shown that passaging through the murine spleen can cause new phenotypic characteristics. Since the murine kidney is the main target organ in murine Candida sepsis and infection of the spleen differs from the kidney in several aspects, we tested whether C. albicans SC5314 could evolve to further adapt to infection and persistence within the kidney. Therefore, we performed a long-term serial passage experiment through the murine kidney of using a low infectious dose. We found that the overall virulence of the commonly used wild type strain SC5314 did not change after eight passages and that the isolated pools showed only very moderate changes of phenotypic traits on the population level. Nevertheless, the last passage showed a higher phenotypic variability and a few individual strains exhibited phenotypic alterations suggesting that microevolution has occurred. However, the majority of the tested single strains were phenotypically indistinguishable from SC5314. Thus, our findings indicate that characteristics of SC5314 which are important to establish and maintain kidney infection over a prolonged time are already well developed.
Candida albicans and Candida dubliniensis are pathogenic fungi that are highly related but differ in virulence and in some phenotypic traits. During in vitro growth on certain nutrient-poor media, C. albicans and C. dubliniensis are the only yeast species which are able to produce chlamydospores, large thick-walled cells of unknown function. Interestingly, only C. dubliniensis forms pseudohyphae with abundant chlamydospores when grown on Staib medium, while C. albicans grows exclusively as a budding yeast. In order to further our understanding of chlamydospore development and assembly, we compared the global transcriptional profile of both species during growth in liquid Staib medium by RNA sequencing. We also included a C. albicans mutant in our study which lacks the morphogenetic transcriptional repressor Nrg1. This strain, which is characterized by its constitutive pseudohyphal growth, specifically produces masses of chlamydospores in Staib medium, similar to C. dubliniensis. This comparative approach identified a set of putatively chlamydospore-related genes. Two of the homologous C. albicans and C. dubliniensis genes (CSP1 and CSP2) which were most strongly upregulated during chlamydospore development were analysed in more detail. By use of the green fluorescent protein as a reporter, the encoded putative cell wall related proteins were found to exclusively localize to C. albicans and C. dubliniensis chlamydospores. Our findings uncover the first chlamydospore specific markers in Candida species and provide novel insights in the complex morphogenetic development of these important fungal pathogens.
Systemic infections of humans with the fungal pathogen Candida albicans are associated with a high mortality rate. Currently, efficient treatment of these infections is hampered by the relatively low number of available antifungal drugs. We recently identified the small heat shock protein Hsp21 in C. albicans and demonstrated its fundamental role for environmental stress adaptation and fungal virulence. Hsp21 was found in several pathogenic Candida species but not in humans. This prompted us to investigate the effects of a broad range of different antifungal drugs on an Hsp21-null C. albicans mutant strain. Our results indicate that combinatorial therapy targeting Hsp21, together with specific antifungal drug targets, has strong synergistic potential. In addition, we demonstrate that Hsp21 is required for tolerance to ethanol-induced stress and induction of filamentation in response to pharmacological inhibition of Hsp90. These findings might pave the way for the development of new treatment strategies against Candida infections.
Although morphological plasticity is a central virulence trait of Candida albicans, the number of filament-associated genes and the interplay of mechanisms regulating their expression remain unknown. By correlation-based network modeling of the transcriptional response to different defined external stimuli for morphogenesis we identified a set of eight genes with highly correlated expression patterns, forming a core filamentation response. This group of genes included ALS3, ECE1, HGT2, HWP1, IHD1 and RBT1 which are known or supposed to encode for cell- wall associated proteins as well as the Rac1 guanine nucleotide exchange factor encoding gene DCK1 and the unknown function open reading frame orf19.2457. The validity of network modeling was confirmed using a dataset of advanced complexity that describes the transcriptional response of C. albicans during epithelial invasion as well as comparing our results with other previously published transcriptome studies. Although the set of core filamentation response genes was quite small, several transcriptional regulators are involved in the control of their expression, depending on the environmental condition.
The polymorphic fungus Candida albicans is a member of the normal human microbiome. In most individuals, C. albicans resides as a lifelong, harmless commensal. Under certain circumstances, however, C. albicans can cause infections that range from superficial infections of the skin to life-threatening systemic infections. Several factors and activities have been identified which contribute to the pathogenic potential of this fungus. Among them are molecules which mediate adhesion to and invasion into host cells, the secretion of hydrolases, the yeast-to-hypha transition, contact sensing and thigmotropism, biofilm formation, phenotypic switching and a range of fitness attributes. Our understanding of when and how these mechanisms and factors contribute to infection has significantly increased during the last years. In addition, novel virulence mechanisms have recently been discovered. In this review we present an update on our current understanding of the pathogenicity mechanisms of this important human pathogen.
Candida albicans; pathogenicity; virulence factors; fitness attributes; candidiasis
Neutrophils are key players during Candida albicans infection. However, the relative contributions of neutrophil activities to fungal clearance and the relative importance of the fungal responses that counteract these activities remain unclear. We studied the contributions of the intra- and extracellular antifungal activities of human neutrophils using diagnostic Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP)-marked C. albicans strains. We found that a carbohydrate starvation response, as indicated by up-regulation of glyoxylate cycle genes, was only induced upon phagocytosis of the fungus. Similarly, the nitrosative stress response was only observed in internalised fungal cells. In contrast, the response to oxidative stress was observed in both phagocytosed and non-phagocytosed fungal cells, indicating that oxidative stress is imposed both intra- and extracellularly. We assessed the contributions of carbohydrate starvation, oxidative and nitrosative stress as antifungal activities by analysing the resistance to neutrophil killing of C. albicans mutants lacking key glyoxylate cycle, oxidative and nitrosative stress genes. We found that the glyoxylate cycle plays a crucial role in fungal resistance against neutrophils. The inability to respond to oxidative stress (in cells lacking superoxide dismutase 5 or glutathione reductase 2) renders C. albicans susceptible to neutrophil killing, due to the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We also show that neutrophil-derived nitric oxide is crucial for the killing of C. albicans: a yhb1Δ/Δ mutant, unable to detoxify NO•, was more susceptible to neutrophils, and this phenotype was rescued by the nitric oxide scavenger carboxy-PTIO. The stress responses of C. albicans to neutrophils are partially regulated via the stress regulator Hog1 since a hog1Δ/Δ mutant was clearly less resistant to neutrophils and unable to respond properly to neutrophil-derived attack. Our data indicate that an appropriate fungal response to all three antifungal activities, carbohydrate starvation, nitrosative stress and oxidative stress, is essential for full wild type resistance to neutrophils.
Perception of external stimuli and generation of an appropriate response are crucial for host colonization by pathogens. In pathogenic fungi, mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways regulate dimorphism, biofilm/mat formation, and virulence. Signaling mucins, characterized by a heavily glycosylated extracellular domain, a transmembrane domain, and a small cytoplasmic domain, are known to regulate various signaling pathways. In Candida albicans, the mucin Msb2 regulates the Cek1 MAPK pathway. We show here that Msb2 is localized to the yeast cell wall and is further enriched on hyphal surfaces. A msb2Δ/Δ strain formed normal hyphae but had biofilm defects. Cek1 (but not Mkc1) phosphorylation was absent in the msb2Δ/Δ mutant. The extracellular domain of Msb2 was shed in cells exposed to elevated temperature and carbon source limitation, concomitant with germination and Cek1 phosphorylation. Msb2 shedding occurred differentially in cells grown planktonically or on solid surfaces in the presence of cell wall and osmotic stressors. We further show that Msb2 shedding and Cek1 phosphorylation were inhibited by addition of Pepstatin A (PA), a selective inhibitor of aspartic proteases (Saps). Analysis of combinations of Sap protease mutants identified a sap8Δ/Δ mutant with reduced MAPK signaling along with defects in biofilm formation, thereby suggesting that Sap8 potentially serves as a major regulator of Msb2 processing. We further show that loss of either Msb2 (msb2Δ/Δ) or Sap8 (sap8Δ/Δ) resulted in higher C. albicans surface β-glucan exposure and msb2Δ/Δ showed attenuated virulence in a murine model of oral candidiasis. Thus, Sap-mediated proteolytic cleavage of Msb2 is required for activation of the Cek1 MAPK pathway in response to environmental cues including those that induce germination. Inhibition of Msb2 processing at the level of Saps may provide a means of attenuating MAPK signaling and reducing C. albicans virulence.
Candida albicans interactions with epithelial cells are critical for commensal growth, fungal pathogenicity and host defence. This review will outline our current understanding of C. albicans-epithelial interactions and will discuss how this may lead to the induction of a protective mucosal immune response.
Candida albicans; yeast; hyphae; epithelial cells; oral; vaginal; mucosal; innate immunity; induced endocytosis; active penetration; cytokines; chemokines; commensal; pathogen
In recent years an increasing number of yeast infections in humans have been related to certain clinical isolates of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Some clinical strains showed in vivo and in vitro virulence traits and were able to cause death in mice whereas other clinical strains were avirulent.
In this work, we studied the transcriptional profiles of two S. cerevisiae clinical strains showing virulent traits and two control non-virulent strains during a blood incubation model and detected a specific transcriptional response of clinical strains. This response involves an mRNA levels increase of amino acid biosynthesis genes and especially oxidative stress related genes. We observed that the clinical strains were more resistant to reactive oxygen species in vitro. In addition, blood survival of clinical isolates was high, reaching similar levels to pathogenic Candida albicans strain. Furthermore, a virulent strain mutant in the transcription factor Yap1p, unable to grow in oxidative stress conditions, presented decreased survival levels in human blood compared with the wild type or YAP1 reconstituted strain.
Our data suggest that this enhanced oxidative stress response in virulent clinical isolates, presumably induced in response to oxidative burst from host defense cells, is important to increase survival in human blood and can help to infect and even produce death in mice models.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae; Clinical strains; Transcriptomics; Blood; Oxidative stress
The ability of pathogenic microorganisms to assimilate essential nutrients from their hosts is critical for pathogenesis. Here we report endothelial zinc sequestration by the major human fungal pathogen, Candida albicans. We hypothesised that, analogous to siderophore-mediated iron acquisition, C. albicans utilises an extracellular zinc scavenger for acquiring this essential metal. We postulated that such a “zincophore” system would consist of a secreted factor with zinc-binding properties, which can specifically reassociate with the fungal cell surface. In silico analysis of the C. albicans secretome for proteins with zinc binding motifs identified the pH-regulated antigen 1 (Pra1). Three-dimensional modelling of Pra1 indicated the presence of at least two zinc coordination sites. Indeed, recombinantly expressed Pra1 exhibited zinc binding properties in vitro. Deletion of PRA1 in C. albicans prevented fungal sequestration and utilisation of host zinc, and specifically blocked host cell damage in the absence of exogenous zinc. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that PRA1 arose in an ancient fungal lineage and developed synteny with ZRT1 (encoding a zinc transporter) before divergence of the Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. Structural modelling indicated physical interaction between Pra1 and Zrt1 and we confirmed this experimentally by demonstrating that Zrt1 was essential for binding of soluble Pra1 to the cell surface of C. albicans. Therefore, we have identified a novel metal acquisition system consisting of a secreted zinc scavenger (“zincophore”), which reassociates with the fungal cell. Furthermore, functional similarities with phylogenetically unrelated prokaryotic systems indicate that syntenic zinc acquisition loci have been independently selected during evolution.
The capacity of disease-causing microbes to acquire nutrients from their host is one of the most fundamental aspects of infection. Host organisms therefore restrict microbial access to certain key nutrients in a process known as nutritional immunity. Recently, it was found that infected vertebrates sequester zinc from invading microorganisms to control infection. Therefore, the mechanisms of microbial zinc acquisition represent potential virulence attributes. Here we report the molecular mechanism of host-derived zinc acquisition by the major human fungal pathogen, Candida albicans. We show that C. albicans utilises a secreted protein, the pH-regulated antigen 1 (Pra1), to bind zinc from its environment. Pra1 then reassociates with the fungal cell via a syntenically encoded (genetically-linked) membrane transporter (Zrt1) to acquire this essential metal. Deletion of PRA1 prevented utilisation of host zinc and damage of host cells in the absence of exogenous zinc. Finally, we demonstrate that this zinc-scavenging locus arose in an ancient fungal lineage and remains conserved in many contemporary species. Syntenically arranged zinc acquisition systems have evolved independently in the fungal and bacterial kingdoms, suggesting that such an arrangement is evolutionary beneficial for microorganisms.
Small heat shock proteins (sHsps) have multiple cellular functions. However, the biological function of sHsps in pathogenic microorganisms is largely unknown. In the present study we identified and characterized the novel sHsp Hsp21 of the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. Using a reverse genetics approach we demonstrate the importance of Hsp21 for resistance of C. albicans to specific stresses, including thermal and oxidative stress. Furthermore, a hsp21Δ/Δ mutant was defective in invasive growth and formed significantly shorter filaments compared to the wild type under various filament-inducing conditions. Although adhesion to and invasion into human-derived endothelial and oral epithelial cells was unaltered, the hsp21Δ/Δ mutant exhibited a strongly reduced capacity to damage both cell lines. Furthermore, Hsp21 was required for resisting killing by human neutrophils. Measurements of intracellular levels of stress protective molecules demonstrated that Hsp21 is involved in both glycerol and glycogen regulation and plays a major role in trehalose homeostasis in response to elevated temperatures. Mutants defective in trehalose and, to a lesser extent, glycerol synthesis phenocopied HSP21 deletion in terms of increased susceptibility to environmental stress, strongly impaired capacity to damage epithelial cells and increased sensitivity to the killing activities of human primary neutrophils. Via systematic analysis of the three main C. albicans stress-responsive kinases (Mkc1, Cek1, Hog1) under a range of stressors, we demonstrate Hsp21-dependent phosphorylation of Cek1 in response to elevated temperatures. Finally, the hsp21Δ/Δ mutant displayed strongly attenuated virulence in two in vivo infection models. Taken together, Hsp21 mediates adaptation to specific stresses via fine-tuning homeostasis of compatible solutes and activation of the Cek1 pathway, and is crucial for multiple stages of C. albicans pathogenicity. Hsp21 therefore represents the first reported example of a small heat shock protein functioning as a virulence factor in a eukaryotic pathogen.
Candida albicans frequently causes superficial infections by invading and damaging epithelial cells, but may also cause systemic infections by penetrating through epithelial barriers. C. albicans is a remarkable pathogen because it can invade epithelial cells via two distinct mechanisms: induced endocytosis, analogous to facultative intracellular enteropathogenic bacteria, and active penetration, similar to plant pathogenic fungi. Here we investigated the contributions of the two invasion routes of C. albicans to epithelial invasion. Using selective cellular inhibition approaches and differential fluorescence microscopy, we demonstrate that induced endocytosis contributes considerably to the early time points of invasion, while active penetration represents the dominant epithelial invasion route. Although induced endocytosis depends mainly on Als3-E–cadherin interactions, we observed E–cadherin independent induced endocytosis. Finally, we provide evidence of a protective role for serum factors in oral infection: human serum strongly inhibited C. albicans adhesion to, invasion and damage of oral epithelial cells.
Candida albicans is the most frequent cause of oral fungal infections. However, the exact pathogenicity mechanisms that this fungus employs are largely unknown and many of the genes expressed during oral infection are uncharacterized. In this study we sought to functionally characterize 12 previously unknown function genes associated with oral candidiasis. We generated homozygous knockout mutants for all 12 genes and analyzed their interaction with human oral epithelium in vitro. Eleven mutants caused significantly less epithelial damage and, of these, deletion of orf19.6656 (DUR31) elicited the strongest reduction in pathogenicity. Interestingly, DUR31 was not only involved in oral epithelial damage, but in multiple stages of candidiasis, including surviving attack by human neutrophils, endothelial damage and virulence in vivo. In silico analysis indicated that DUR31 encodes a sodium/substrate symporter with 13 transmembrane domains and no human homologue. We provide evidence that Dur31 transports histatin 5. This is one of the very first examples of microbial driven import of this highly cytotoxic antimicrobial peptide. Also, in contrast to wild type C. albicans, dur31Δ/Δ was unable to actively increase local environmental pH, suggesting that Dur31 lies in the extracellular alkalinization hyphal auto-induction pathway; and, indeed, DUR31 was required for morphogenesis. In agreement with this observation, dur31Δ/Δ was unable to assimilate the polyamine spermidine.
The normally commensal yeast, Candida albicans is the leading cause of both oral and vaginal thrush, as well as life-threatening disseminated infections in the nosocomial setting. Treatment of such infections is hampered by the limited number of suitable antimycotics. Therefore, understanding how this fungus causes disease is crucial for the development of more effective diagnostic tools and therapeutic strategies. Here we identified a novel C. albicans transporter that has no human homologue and demonstrate its role during multiple stages of candidiasis. We also show that this transporter is involved in modifying environmental pH and in filamentous growth. Additionally, deletion of DUR31 rendered cells unable to assimilate a polyamine (spermidine) as a nutrient source, but resistant to the antimicrobial peptide histatin 5. Therefore, Dur31 has multiple transport functions, which can be either beneficial or detrimental to the fungus.
The ability to adapt to diverse micro-environmental challenges encountered within a host is of pivotal importance to the opportunistic fungal pathogen Candida albicans. We have quantified C. albicans and M. musculus gene expression dynamics during phagocytosis by dendritic cells in a genome-wide, time-resolved analysis using simultaneous RNA-seq. A robust network inference map was generated from this dataset using NetGenerator, predicting novel interactions between the host and the pathogen. We experimentally verified predicted interdependent sub-networks comprising Hap3 in C. albicans, and Ptx3 and Mta2 in M. musculus. Remarkably, binding of recombinant Ptx3 to the C. albicans cell wall was found to regulate the expression of fungal Hap3 target genes as predicted by the network inference model. Pre-incubation of C. albicans with recombinant Ptx3 significantly altered the expression of Mta2 target cytokines such as IL-2 and IL-4 in a Hap3-dependent manner, further suggesting a role for Mta2 in host–pathogen interplay as predicted in the network inference model. We propose an integrated model for the functionality of these sub-networks during fungal invasion of immune cells, according to which binding of Ptx3 to the C. albicans cell wall induces remodeling via fungal Hap3 target genes, thereby altering the immune response to the pathogen. We show the applicability of network inference to predict interactions between host–pathogen pairs, demonstrating the usefulness of this systems biology approach to decipher mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis.
host–pathogen; RNA-seq; network inference; modeling; reverse engineering; Candida; dendritic cells
Clotrimazole and bifonazole are highly effective antifungal agents against mucosal Candida albicans infections. Here we examined the effects of low levels of clotrimazole and bifonazole on the ability of C. albicans to adhere, invade, and damage vaginal epithelial cells. Although adhesion and invasion were not affected, damage was greatly reduced upon azole treatment. This clearly indicates that low levels of azoles influence specific activities of C. albicans during distinct stages of vaginal epithelium infections.
Invasive bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (IBPA) is a life-threatening disease in immunocompromised patients. Although Aspergillus terreus is frequently found in the environment, A. fumigatus is by far the main cause of IBPA. However, once A. terreus establishes infection in the host, disease is as fatal as A. fumigatus infections. Thus, we hypothesized that the initial steps of disease establishment might be fundamentally different between these two species. Since alveolar macrophages represent one of the first phagocytes facing inhaled conidia, we compared the interaction of A. terreus and A. fumigatus conidia with alveolar macrophages. A. terreus conidia were phagocytosed more rapidly than A. fumigatus conidia, possibly due to higher exposure of β-1,3-glucan and galactomannan on the surface. In agreement, blocking of dectin-1 and mannose receptors significantly reduced phagocytosis of A. terreus, but had only a moderate effect on phagocytosis of A. fumigatus. Once phagocytosed, and in contrast to A. fumigatus, A. terreus did not inhibit acidification of phagolysosomes, but remained viable without signs of germination both in vitro and in immunocompetent mice. The inability of A. terreus to germinate and pierce macrophages resulted in significantly lower cytotoxicity compared to A. fumigatus. Blocking phagolysosome acidification by the v-ATPase inhibitor bafilomycin increased A. terreus germination rates and cytotoxicity. Recombinant expression of the A. nidulans wA naphthopyrone synthase, a homologue of A. fumigatus PksP, inhibited phagolysosome acidification and resulted in increased germination, macrophage damage and virulence in corticosteroid-treated mice. In summary, we show that A. terreus and A. fumigatus have evolved significantly different strategies to survive the attack of host immune cells. While A. fumigatus prevents phagocytosis and phagolysosome acidification and escapes from macrophages by germination, A. terreus is rapidly phagocytosed, but conidia show long-term persistence in macrophages even in immunocompetent hosts.
This protocol describes the setup, maintenance and characteristics of models of epithelial Candida infections based on well-established three-dimensional organotypic tissues of human oral and vaginal mucosa. Infection experiments are highly reproducible and can be used for the direct analysis of pathogen–epithelial cell interactions. This allows detailed investigations of Candida albicans wild type or mutant strain interaction with epithelial tissue or the evaluation of the host immune response using histological, biochemical and molecular methods. As such, the models can be utilized as a tool to investigate cellular interactions or protein and gene expression that are not complicated by non-epithelial factors. To study the impact of innate immunity or the antifungal activity of natural and non-natural compounds, the mucosal infection models can be supplemented with immune cells, antimicrobial agents or probiotic bacteria. The model requires at least 3 days to be established and can be maintained thereafter for 2–4 days.
The cell wall of the human-pathogenic fungus Candida albicans is a robust but also dynamic structure which mediates adaptation to changing environmental conditions during infection. Sap9 and Sap10 are cell surface-associated proteases which function in C. albicans cell wall integrity and interaction with human epithelial cells and neutrophils. In this study, we have analyzed the enzymatic properties of Sap9 and Sap10 and investigated whether these proteases cleave proteins on the fungal cell surface. We show that Sap9 and Sap10, in contrast to other aspartic proteases, exhibit a near-neutral pH optimum of proteolytic activity and prefer the processing of peptides containing basic or dibasic residues. However, both proteases also cleaved at nonbasic sites, and not all tested peptides with dibasic residues were processed. By digesting isolated cell walls with Sap9 or Sap10, we identified the covalently linked cell wall proteins (CWPs) Cht2, Ywp1, Als2, Rhd3, Rbt5, Ecm33, and Pga4 as in vitro protease substrates. Proteolytic cleavage of the chitinase Cht2 and the glucan-cross-linking protein Pir1 by Sap9 was verified using hemagglutinin (HA) epitope-tagged versions of both proteins. Deletion of the SAP9 and SAP10 genes resulted in a reduction of cell-associated chitinase activity similar to that upon deletion of CHT2, suggesting a direct influence of Sap9 and Sap10 on Cht2 function. In contrast, cell surface changes elicited by SAP9 and SAP10 deletion had no major impact on the phagocytosis and killing of C. albicans by human macrophages. We propose that Sap9 and Sap10 influence distinct cell wall functions by proteolytic cleavage of covalently linked cell wall proteins.
Alternative models of microbial infections are increasingly used to screen virulence determinants of pathogens. In this study, we investigated the pathogenesis of Candida albicans and C. glabrata infections in chicken embryos infected via the chorio-allantoic membrane (CAM) and analyzed the virulence of deletion mutants. The developing immune system of the host significantly influenced susceptibility: With increasing age, embryos became more resistant and mounted a more balanced immune response, characterized by lower induction of proinflammatory cytokines and increased transcription of regulatory cytokines, suggesting that immunopathology contributes to pathogenesis. While many aspects of the chicken embryo response resembled murine infections, we also observed significant differences: In contrast to systemic infections in mice, IL-10 had a beneficial effect in chicken embryos. IL-22 and IL-17A were only upregulated after the peak mortality in the chicken embryo model occurred; thus, the role of the Th17 response in this model remains unclear. Abscess formation occurs frequently in murine models, whereas the avian response was dominated by granuloma formation. Pathogenicity of the majority of 15 tested C. albicans deletion strains was comparable to the virulence in mouse models and reduced virulence was associated with significantly lower transcription of proinflammatory cytokines. However, fungal burden did not correlate with virulence and for few mutants like bcr1Δ and tec1Δ different outcomes in survival compared to murine infections were observed. C. albicans strains locked in the yeast stage disseminated significantly more often from the CAM into the embryo, supporting the hypothesis that the yeast morphology is responsible for dissemination in systemic infections. These data suggest that the pathogenesis of C. albicans infections in the chicken embryo model resembles systemic murine infections but also differs in some aspects. Despite its limitations, it presents a useful alternative tool to pre-screen C. albicans strains to select strains for subsequent testing in murine models.
The secretion of aspartic proteases (Saps) has long been recognized as a virulence-associated trait of the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans. In this study, we report that different recombinant Saps, including Sap1, Sap2, Sap3, and Sap6, have differing abilities to induce secretion of proinflammatory cytokines by human monocytes. In particular Sap1, Sap2, and Sap6 significantly induced interleukin-1β (IL-1β), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and IL-6 production. Sap3 was able to stimulate the secretion of IL-1β and TNF-α. All Saps tested were able to induce Ca2+ influx in monocytes. Treatment of these Saps with pepstatin A did not have any effect on cytokine secretion, indicating that their stimulatory potential was independent from their proteolytic activity. The capacity of Saps to induce inflammatory cytokine production was also independent from protease-activated receptor (PAR) activation and from the optimal pH for individual Sap activity. The interaction of Saps with monocytes induced Akt activation and phosphorylation of IκBα, which mediates translocation of NF-κB into the nucleus. Overall, these results suggest that individual Sap proteins can induce an inflammatory response and that this phenomenon is independent from the pH of a specific host niche and from Sap enzymatic activity. The inflammatory response is partially dependent on Sap denaturation and is triggered by the Akt/NF-κB activation pathway. Our data suggest a novel, activity-independent aspect of Saps during interactions of C. albicans with the host.