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1.  Role of Retrograde Trafficking in Stress Response, Host Cell Interactions, and Virulence of Candida albicans 
Eukaryotic Cell  2014;13(2):279-287.
In Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the vacuolar protein sorting complexes Vps51/52/53/54 and Vps15/30/34/38 are essential for efficient endosome-to-Golgi complex retrograde transport. Here we investigated the function of Vps15 and Vps51, representative members of these complexes, in the stress resistance, host cell interactions, and virulence of Candida albicans. We found that C. albicans vps15Δ/Δ and vps51Δ/Δ mutants had abnormal vacuolar morphology, impaired retrograde protein trafficking, and dramatically increased susceptibility to a variety of stressors. These mutants also had reduced capacity to invade and damage oral epithelial cells in vitro and attenuated virulence in the mouse model of oropharyngeal candidiasis. Proteomic analysis of the cell wall of the vps51Δ/Δ mutant revealed increased levels of the Crh11 and Utr2 transglycosylases, which are targets of the calcineurin signaling pathway. The transcript levels of the calcineurin pathway members CHR11, UTR2, CRZ1, CNA1, and CNA2 were elevated in the vps15Δ/Δ and vps51Δ/Δ mutants. Furthermore, these strains were highly sensitive to the calcineurin-specific inhibitor FK506. Also, deletion of CHR11 and UTR2 further increased the stress susceptibility of these mutants. In contrast, overexpression of CRH11 and UTR2 partially rescued their defects in stress resistance, but not host cell interactions. Therefore, intact retrograde trafficking in C. albicans is essential for stress resistance, host cell interactions, and virulence. Aberrant retrograde trafficking stimulates the calcineurin signaling pathway, leading to the increased expression of Chr11 and Utr2, which enables C. albicans to withstand environmental stress.
PMCID: PMC3910971  PMID: 24363364
2.  In vitro models of hematogenously disseminated candidiasis 
Virulence  2014;5(2):240-242.
PMCID: PMC3956498  PMID: 24384501
virulence; endothelial cells; epithelial cells; adherence; invasion; damage
3.  Investigation of the Function of Candida albicans Als3 by Heterologous Expression in Candida glabrata 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(7):2528-2535.
During hematogenously disseminated infection, blood-borne Candida albicans invades the endothelial cell lining of the vasculature to invade the deep tissues. Although the C. albicans Als3 invasin is critical for invasion and damage of endothelial cells in vitro, a C. albicans als3Δ/Δ mutant has normal virulence in the mouse model of disseminated infection. We hypothesized that the contribution of Als3 to virulence is obscured by the presence of additional C. albicans invasins. To elucidate the in vivo function of Als3, we heterologously expressed C. albicans ALS3 in Candida glabrata, a yeast that lacks a close ALS3 ortholog and has low virulence in mice. We found that following intravenous inoculation into mice, the ALS3-expressing strain preferentially trafficked to the brain, where it induced significantly elevated levels of myeloperoxidase, tumor necrosis factor, monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, and gamma interferon. Also, the ALS3-expressing strain had enhanced adherence to and invasion of human brain microvascular endothelial cells in vitro, demonstrating a potential mechanism for ALS3-mediated neurotropism. In addition, upon initiation of infection, the ALS3-expressing strain had increased trafficking to the cortex of the kidneys. With prolonged infection, this strain persisted in the kidneys at significantly higher levels than the control strain but did not induce an elevated inflammatory response. Finally, the ALS3-expressing strain had increased resistance to neutrophil killing in vitro. These results indicate that during disseminated infection, Als3 mediates initial trafficking to the brain and renal cortex and contributes to fungal persistence in the kidneys.
PMCID: PMC3697595  PMID: 23630968
4.  Role of Endothelial Cell Septin 7 in the Endocytosis of Candida albicans 
mBio  2013;4(6):e00542-13.
Candida albicans invades endothelial cells by binding to N-cadherin and other cell surface receptors. This binding induces rearrangement of endothelial cell actin microfilaments, which results in the formation of pseudopods that surround the organism and pull it into the endothelial cell. Here, we investigated the role of endothelial cell septin 7 (SEPT7) in the endocytosis of C. albicans hyphae. Using confocal microscopy, we determined that SEPT7 accumulated with N-cadherin and actin microfilaments around C. albicans as it was endocytosed by endothelial cells. Affinity purification studies indicated that a complex containing N-cadherin and SEPT7 was recruited by C. albicans and that formation of this complex around C. albicans was mediated by the fungal Als3 and Ssa1 invasins. Knockdown of N-cadherin by small interfering RNA (siRNA) reduced recruitment of SEPT7 to C. albicans, suggesting that N-cadherin functions as a link between SEPT7 and the fungus. Also, depolymerization of actin microfilaments with cytochalasin D decreased the association between SEPT7 and N-cadherin and inhibited recruitment of both SEPT7 and N-cadherin to C. albicans, indicating the necessity of an intact cytoskeleton in the functional interaction between SEPT7 and N-cadherin. Importantly, knockdown of SEPT7 decreased accumulation of N-cadherin around C. albicans in intact endothelial cells and reduced binding of N-cadherin to this organism, as revealed by the affinity purification assay. Furthermore, SEPT7 knockdown significantly inhibited the endocytosis of C. albicans. Therefore, in response to C. albicans infection, SEPT7 forms a complex with endothelial cell N-cadherin, is required for normal accumulation of N-cadherin around C. albicans hyphae, and is necessary for maximal endocytosis of the organism.
During hematogenously disseminated infection, Candida albicans invades the endothelial cell lining of the blood vessels to invade the deep tissues. C. albicans can invade endothelial cells by inducing its own endocytosis, which is triggered when the C. albicans Als3 and Ssa1 invasins bind to N-cadherin on the endothelial cell surface. How this binding induces endocytosis is incompletely understood. Septins are intracellular GTP-binding proteins that influence the function and localization of cell surface proteins. We found that C. albicans Als3 and Ssa1 bind to a complex containing N-cadherin and septin 7, which in turn interacts with endothelial cell microfilaments, thereby inducing endocytosis of the organism. The key role of septin 7 in governing receptor-mediated endocytosis is likely relevant to host cell invasion by other microbial pathogens, in addition to C. albicans.
PMCID: PMC3870263  PMID: 24345743
5.  Bcr1 Functions Downstream of Ssd1 To Mediate Antimicrobial Peptide Resistance in Candida albicans 
Eukaryotic Cell  2013;12(3):411-419.
In order to colonize the host and cause disease, Candida albicans must avoid being killed by host defense peptides. Previously, we determined that the regulatory protein Ssd1 governs antimicrobial peptide resistance in C. albicans. Here, we sought to identify additional genes whose products govern susceptibility to antimicrobial peptides. We discovered that a bcr1Δ/Δ mutant, like the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant, had increased susceptibility to the antimicrobial peptides, protamine, RP-1, and human β defensin-2. Homozygous deletion of BCR1 in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant did not result in a further increase in antimicrobial peptide susceptibility. Exposure of the bcr1Δ/Δ and ssd1Δ/Δ mutants to RP-1 induced greater loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and increased plasma membrane permeability than with the control strains. Therefore, Bcr1 and Ssd1 govern antimicrobial peptide susceptibility and likely function in the same pathway. Furthermore, BCR1 mRNA expression was downregulated in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant, and the forced expression of BCR1 in the ssd1Δ/Δ mutant partially restored antimicrobial peptide resistance. These results suggest that Bcr1 functions downstream of Ssd1. Interestingly, overexpression of 11 known Bcr1 target genes in the bcr1Δ/Δ mutant failed to restore antimicrobial peptide resistance, suggesting that other Bcr1 target genes are likely responsible for antimicrobial peptide resistance. Collectively, these results demonstrate that Bcr1 functions downstream of Ssd1 to govern antimicrobial peptide resistance by maintaining mitochondrial energetics and reducing membrane permeabilization.
PMCID: PMC3629773  PMID: 23314964
6.  Using Bayesian modelling to investigate factors governing antibiotic-induced Candida albicans colonization of the GI tract 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:8131.
Receipt of broad-spectrum antibiotics enhances Candida albicans colonization of the GI tract, a risk factor for haematogenously-disseminated candidiasis. To understand how antibiotics influence C. albicans colonization, we treated mice orally with vancomycin or a combination of penicillin, streptomycin, and gentamicin (PSG) and then inoculated them with C. albicans by gavage. Only PSG treatment resulted in sustained, high-level GI colonization with C. albicans. Furthermore, PSG reduced bacterial diversity in the colon much more than vancomycin. Both antibiotic regimens significantly reduced IL-17A, IL-21, IL-22 and IFN-γ mRNA levels in the terminal ileum but had limited effect on the GI fungal microbiome. Through a series of models that employed Bayesian model averaging, we investigated the associations between antibiotic treatment, GI microbiota, and host immune response and their collective impact on C. albicans colonization. Our analysis revealed that bacterial genera were typically associated with either C. albicans colonization or altered cytokine expression but not with both. The only exception was Veillonella, which was associated with both increased C. albicans colonization and reduced IL-21 expression. Overall, antibiotic-induced changes in the bacterial microbiome were much more consistent determinants of C. albicans colonization than either the GI fungal microbiota or the GI immune response.
PMCID: PMC4314636  PMID: 25644850
7.  Pharmacokinetics of Posaconazole Within Epithelial Cells and Fungi: Insights Into Potential Mechanisms of Action During Treatment and Prophylaxis 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2013;208(10):1717-1728.
Background. The antifungal posaconazole concentrates within host cells and protects against Aspergillus fumigatus. The specific subcellular location of posaconazole and the mechanism by which cell-associated posaconazole inhibits fungal growth remain uncharacterized.
Methods. Posaconazole was conjugated with the fluorophore boron-dipyrromethene (BDP-PCZ). A549 pulmonary epithelial cells and A. fumigatus were exposed to BDP-PCZ individually and in coculture. BDP-PCZ subcellular localization and trafficking were observed using confocal microscopy and flow cytometry.
Results. BDP-PCZ concentrated within A549 cell membranes, and in particular within the endoplasmic reticulum. Epithelial cell-associated BDP-PCZ rapidly transferred to and concentrated within A. fumigatus cell membranes on contact. BDP-PCZ transfer to conidia did not require phagocytosis and was markedly enhanced by the conidial hydrophobin RodA. Within AF, BDP-PCZ also concentrated in membranes including the endoplasmic reticulum and colocalized with the azole target enzyme CYP51a. Concentration of BDP-PCZ within host and fungal cell membranes persisted for >48 hours and could be competitively inhibited by posaconazole but not voriconazole.
Conclusions. Posaconazole concentrates within host cell membranes and rapidly transfers to A. fumigatus, where it accumulates to high concentrations and persists at the site of its target enzyme. These intracellular and intercellular pharmacokinetic properties probably contribute to the efficacy of PCZ.
PMCID: PMC3805237  PMID: 23908482
posaconazole; localization; pharmacokinetics; endoplasmic reticulum; epithelial cells; Aspergillus; postantifungal effect; hydrophobin rodA
8.  Synergistic regulation of hyphal elongation by hypoxia, CO2, and nutrient conditions controls the virulence of Candida albicans 
Cell host & microbe  2013;14(5):499-509.
Candida albicans reversibly switches between yeast and hyphal morphologies, with hyphae being associated with virulence. Hyphal initiation and maintenance depends on host environment sensing. Hyphal maintenance in vitro requires chromatin remodeling of hypha-specific gene promoters, although disrupting chromatin-remodeling does not disrupt C. albicans hyphal elongation and virulence during invasive infection. We find that the combination of hypoxia and high CO2, but neither condition alone, maintains hyphal elongation, even in mutants lacking the nutrient responsive chromatin-remodeling pathway. Ume6, the transcriptional activator of hypha-specific genes is stabilized via regulation by Ofd1, a prolyl hydroxylase family member inhibited by hypoxia, and by an uncharacterized pathway that senses high CO2. Virulence and hyphal elongation in vivo are attenuated only when the parallelly acting Ume6 stabilization and chromatin-remodeling pathways are both blocked. The evolution of redundant signaling pathways allowing C. albicans to adapt to varied host environments may explain this commensal's success as a pathogen.
PMCID: PMC4049569  PMID: 24237696
10.  The pH-Responsive PacC Transcription Factor of Aspergillus fumigatus Governs Epithelial Entry and Tissue Invasion during Pulmonary Aspergillosis 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(10):e1004413.
Destruction of the pulmonary epithelium is a major feature of lung diseases caused by the mould pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Although it is widely postulated that tissue invasion is governed by fungal proteases, A. fumigatus mutants lacking individual or multiple enzymes remain fully invasive, suggesting a concomitant requirement for other pathogenic activities during host invasion. In this study we discovered, and exploited, a novel, tissue non-invasive, phenotype in A. fumigatus mutants lacking the pH-responsive transcription factor PacC. Our study revealed a novel mode of epithelial entry, occurring in a cell wall-dependent manner prior to protease production, and via the Dectin-1 β-glucan receptor. ΔpacC mutants are defective in both contact-mediated epithelial entry and protease expression, and significantly attenuated for pathogenicity in leukopenic mice. We combined murine infection modelling, in vivo transcriptomics, and in vitro infections of human alveolar epithelia, to delineate two major, and sequentially acting, PacC-dependent processes impacting epithelial integrity in vitro and tissue invasion in the whole animal. We demonstrate that A. fumigatus spores and germlings are internalised by epithelial cells in a contact-, actin-, cell wall- and Dectin-1 dependent manner and ΔpacC mutants, which aberrantly remodel the cell wall during germinative growth, are unable to gain entry into epithelial cells, both in vitro and in vivo. We further show that PacC acts as a global transcriptional regulator of secreted molecules during growth in the leukopenic mammalian lung, and profile the full cohort of secreted gene products expressed during invasive infection. Our study reveals a combinatorial mode of tissue entry dependent upon sequential, and mechanistically distinct, perturbations of the pulmonary epithelium and demonstrates, for the first time a protective role for Dectin-1 blockade in epithelial defences. Infecting ΔpacC mutants are hypersensitive to cell wall-active antifungal agents highlighting the value of PacC signalling as a target for antifungal therapy.
Author Summary
Inhaled spores of the pathogenic mould Aspergillus fumigatus cause fungal lung infections in humans having immune defects. A. fumigatus spores germinate within the immunocompromised lung, producing invasively growing, elongated cells called hyphae. Hyphae degrade the surrounding pulmonary tissue, a process thought to be caused by secreted fungal enzymes; however, A. fumigatus mutants lacking one or more protease activities retain fully invasive phenotypes in mouse models of disease. Here we report the first discovery of a non-invasive A. fumigatus mutant, which lacks a pH-responsive transcription factor PacC. Using global transcriptional profiling of wild type and mutant isolates, and in vitro pulmonary invasion assays, we established that loss of PacC leads to a compound non-invasive phenotype characterised by deficits in both contact-mediated epithelial entry and protease expression. Consistent with an important role for epithelial entry in promoting invasive disease in mammalian tissues, PacC mutants remain surface-localised on mammalian epithelia, both in vitro and in vivo. Our study sets a new precedent for involvement of both host and pathogen activities in promoting epithelial invasion by A. fumigatus and supports a model wherein fungal protease activity acting subsequently to, or in parallel with, host-mediated epithelial entry provides the mechanistic basis for tissue invasion.
PMCID: PMC4199764  PMID: 25329394
11.  Cryptococcus gattii VGIII Isolates Causing Infections in HIV/AIDS Patients in Southern California: Identification of the Local Environmental Source as Arboreal 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(8):e1004285.
Ongoing Cryptococcus gattii outbreaks in the Western United States and Canada illustrate the impact of environmental reservoirs and both clonal and recombining propagation in driving emergence and expansion of microbial pathogens. C. gattii comprises four distinct molecular types: VGI, VGII, VGIII, and VGIV, with no evidence of nuclear genetic exchange, indicating these represent distinct species. C. gattii VGII isolates are causing the Pacific Northwest outbreak, whereas VGIII isolates frequently infect HIV/AIDS patients in Southern California. VGI, VGII, and VGIII have been isolated from patients and animals in the Western US, suggesting these molecular types occur in the environment. However, only two environmental isolates of C. gattii have ever been reported from California: CBS7750 (VGII) and WM161 (VGIII). The incongruence of frequent clinical presence and uncommon environmental isolation suggests an unknown C. gattii reservoir in California. Here we report frequent isolation of C. gattii VGIII MATα and MATa isolates and infrequent isolation of VGI MATα from environmental sources in Southern California. VGIII isolates were obtained from soil debris associated with tree species not previously reported as hosts from sites near residences of infected patients. These isolates are fertile under laboratory conditions, produce abundant spores, and are part of both locally and more distantly recombining populations. MLST and whole genome sequence analysis provide compelling evidence that these environmental isolates are the source of human infections. Isolates displayed wide-ranging virulence in macrophage and animal models. When clinical and environmental isolates with indistinguishable MLST profiles were compared, environmental isolates were less virulent. Taken together, our studies reveal an environmental source and risk of C. gattii to HIV/AIDS patients with implications for the >1,000,000 cryptococcal infections occurring annually for which the causative isolate is rarely assigned species status. Thus, the C. gattii global health burden could be more substantial than currently appreciated.
Author Summary
The environmentally-acquired human pathogen C. gattii is responsible for ongoing and expanding outbreaks in the Western United States and Canada. C. gattii comprises four distinct molecular types: VGI, VGII, VGIII, and VGIV. Molecular types VGI, VGII, and VGIII have been isolated from patients and animals throughout the Western US. The Pacific Northwest and Canadian outbreak is primarily caused by C. gattii VGII. VGIII is responsible for ongoing infections in HIV/AIDS patients in Southern California. However, only two environmental C. gattii isolates have ever been identified from the Californian environment: CBS7750 (VGII) and WM161 (VGIII). We sought to collect environmental samples from areas that had confirmed reports of clinical or veterinary infections. Here we report the isolation of C. gattii VGI and VGIII from environmental soil and tree samples. C. gattii isolates were obtained from three novel tree species: Canary Island pine, American sweetgum, and a Pohutukawa tree. Genetic analysis provides robust evidence that these environmental isolates are the source of human infections.
PMCID: PMC4140843  PMID: 25144534
12.  Can host receptors for fungi be targeted for treatment of fungal infections? 
Trends in microbiology  2013;21(8):389-396.
The invasion and stimulation of normally non-phagocytic host cells, such as epithelial and endothelial cells, is a key step in the pathogenesis of many fungal infections. In most cases, host cell invasion and/or stimulation of a pro-inflammatory response is induced when proteins or carbohydrates on the fungal cell surface bind to receptors on the host cell. While many of these fungal–host cell interactions have only been investigated in vitro, the therapeutic efficacy of blocking the host cell receptors for Candida albicans and Rhizopus oryzae has been demonstrated in experimental animal models of infection. Here we summarize recent studies of the fungal receptors on normally non-phagocytic host cells and the therapeutic implications of blocking these receptors.
PMCID: PMC3735786  PMID: 23796589
epithelial cells; endothelial cells; fungi; receptor; pathogenesis
13.  Candida albicans internalization by host cells is mediated by a clathrin-dependent mechanism 
Cellular microbiology  2009;11(8):1179-1189.
Candida albicans is a major cause of oropharyngeal, vulvovaginal and hematogenously disseminated candidiasis. Endocytosis of C. albicans hyphae by host cells is a prerequisite for tissue invasion. This internalization involves interactions between the fungal invasin Als3 and host E- or N-cadherin. Als3 shares some structural similarity with InlA, a major invasion protein of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. InlA mediates entry of L. monocytogenes into host cells through binding to E-cadherin. A role in internalization, for a non classical stimulation of the clathrin-dependent endocytosis machinery was recently highlighted. Based on the similarities between the C. albicans and L. monocytogenes invasion proteins, we studied the role of clathrin in the internalization of C. albicans. Using live-cell imaging and indirect immunofluorescence of epithelial cells infected with C. albicans, we observed that host E-cadherin, clathrin, dynamin and cortactin accumulated at sites of C. albicans internalization. Similarly, in endothelial cells, host N-cadherin, clathrin and cortactin accumulated at sites of fungal endocytosis. Furthermore, clathrin, dynamin or cortactin depletion strongly inhibited C. albicans internalization by epithelial cells. Finally, beads coated with Als3 were internalized in a clathrin-dependent manner. These data indicate that C. albicans, like L. monocytogenes, hijacks the clathrin-dependent endocytic machinery to invade host cells.
PMCID: PMC4098847  PMID: 19416270
14.  Candida albicans transcription factor Rim101 mediates pathogenic interactions through cell wall functions 
Cellular microbiology  2008;10(11):2180-2196.
pH-responsive transcription factors of the Rim101/PacC family govern virulence in many fungal pathogens. These family members control expression of target genes with diverse functions in growth, morphology, and environmental adaptation, so the mechanistic relationship between Rim101/PacC and infection is unclear. We have focused on Rim101 from Candida albicans, which we find to be required for virulence in an oropharyngeal candidiasis (OPC) model. Rim101 affects the yeast-hyphal morphological transition, a major virulence requirement in disseminated infection models. However, virulence in the OPC model is independent of the yeast-hyphal transition because it is unaffected by an nrg1 mutation, which prevents formation of yeast cells. Here we have identified Rim101 target genes in an nrg1Δ/Δ mutant background and surveyed function using an overexpression-rescue approach. Increased expression of Rim101 target genes ALS3, CHT2, PGA7/RBT6, SKN1, or ZRT1 can partially restore pathogenic interaction of a rim101Δ/Δ mutant with oral epithelial cells. Four of these five genes govern cell wall structure. Our results indicate that Rim101-dependent cell wall alteration contributes to C. albicans pathogenic interactions with oral epithelial cells, independently of cell morphology.
PMCID: PMC2701370  PMID: 18627379
15.  Genome Mining of a Prenylated and Immunosuppressive Polyketide from Pathogenic Fungi 
Organic letters  2013;15(4):780-783.
Activation of the polycyclic polyketide prenyltransferases (pcPTase)-containing silent clusters in Aspergillus fumigatus and Neosartorya fischeri led to isolation of a new metabolite neosartoricin (3). The structure of 3 was solved by X-ray crystallography and NMR to be a prenylated anthracenone. 3 Exhibits T-cell antiproliferative activity with an IC50 of 3 μM, suggestive of a physiological role as an immunosuppressive agent.
PMCID: PMC3576815  PMID: 23368997
16.  Efficacy of Liposomal Amphotericin B and Posaconazole in Intratracheal Models of Murine Mucormycosis 
Mucormycosis is a life-threatening fungal infection almost uniformly affecting diabetics in ketoacidosis or other forms of acidosis and/or immunocompromised patients. Inhalation of Mucorales spores provides the most common natural route of entry into the host. In this study, we developed an intratracheal instillation model of pulmonary mucormycosis that hematogenously disseminates into other organs using diabetic ketoacidotic (DKA) or cyclophosphamide-cortisone acetate-treated mice. Various degrees of lethality were achieved for the DKA or cyclophosphamide-cortisone acetate-treated mice when infected with different clinical isolates of Mucorales. In both DKA and cyclophosphamide-cortisone acetate models, liposomal amphotericin B (LAmB) or posaconazole (POS) treatments were effective in improving survival, reducing lungs and brain fungal burdens, and histologically resolving the infection compared with placebo. These models can be used to study mechanisms of infection, develop immunotherapeutic strategies, and evaluate drug efficacies against life-threatening Mucorales infections.
PMCID: PMC3697351  PMID: 23650163
17.  Applying Convergent Immunity to Innovative Vaccines Targeting Staphylococcus aureus 
Recent perspectives forecast a new paradigm for future “third generation” vaccines based on commonalities found in diverse pathogens or convergent immune defenses to such pathogens. For Staphylococcus aureus, recurring infections and a limited success of vaccines containing S. aureus antigens imply that native antigens induce immune responses insufficient for optimal efficacy. These perspectives exemplify the need to apply novel vaccine strategies to high-priority pathogens. One such approach can be termed convergent immunity, where antigens from non-target organisms that contain epitope homologs found in the target organism are applied in vaccines. This approach aims to evoke atypical immune defenses via synergistic processes that (1) afford protective efficacy; (2) target an epitope from one organism that contributes to protective immunity against another; (3) cross-protect against multiple pathogens occupying a common anatomic or immunological niche; and/or (4) overcome immune subversion or avoidance strategies of target pathogens. Thus, convergent immunity has a potential to promote protective efficacy not usually elicited by native antigens from a target pathogen. Variations of this concept have been mainstays in the history of viral and bacterial vaccine development. A more far-reaching example is the pre-clinical evidence that specific fungal antigens can induce cross-kingdom protection against bacterial pathogens. This trans-kingdom protection has been demonstrated in pre-clinical studies of the recombinant Candida albicans agglutinin-like sequence 3 protein (rAls3) where it was shown that a vaccine containing rAls3 provides homologous protection against C. albicans, heterologous protection against several other Candida species, and convergent protection against several strains of S. aureus. Convergent immunity reflects an intriguing new approach to designing and developing vaccine antigens and is considered here in the context of vaccines to target S. aureus.
PMCID: PMC4176462  PMID: 25309545
Staphylococcus aureus; vaccines; NDV-3; Als3; convergent immunity; convergent antigen
18.  CotH3 mediates fungal invasion of host cells during mucormycosis 
Angioinvasion is a hallmark of mucormycosis. Previously, we identified endothelial cell glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) as a receptor for Mucorales that mediates host cell invasion. Here we determined that spore coat protein homologs (CotH) of Mucorales act as fungal ligands for GRP78. CotH proteins were widely present in Mucorales and absent from noninvasive pathogens. Heterologous expression of CotH3 and CotH2 in Saccharomyces cerevisiae conferred the ability to invade host cells via binding to GRP78. Homology modeling and computational docking studies indicated structurally compatible interactions between GRP78 and both CotH3 and CotH2. A mutant of Rhizopus oryzae, the most common cause of mucormycosis, with reduced CotH expression was impaired for invading and damaging endothelial cells and CHO cells overexpressing GRP78. This strain also exhibited reduced virulence in a diabetic ketoacidotic (DKA) mouse model of mucormycosis. Treatment with anti-CotH Abs abolished the ability of R. oryzae to invade host cells and protected DKA mice from mucormycosis. The presence of CotH in Mucorales explained the specific susceptibility of DKA patients, who have increased GRP78 levels, to mucormycosis. Together, these data indicate that CotH3 and CotH2 function as invasins that interact with host cell GRP78 to mediate pathogenic host-cell interactions and identify CotH as a promising therapeutic target for mucormycosis.
PMCID: PMC3871245  PMID: 24355926
19.  NDV-3, a Recombinant Alum-Adjuvanted Vaccine for Candida and Staphylococcus aureus is Safe and Immunogenic in Healthy Adults 
Vaccine  2012;30(52):7594-7600.
The investigational vaccine, NDV-3, contains the N-terminal portion of the Candida albicans agglutinin-like sequence 3 protein (Als3p) formulated with an aluminum hydroxide adjuvant in phosphate-buffered saline. Preclinical studies demonstrated that the Als3p vaccine antigen protects mice from oropharyngeal, vaginal and intravenous challenge with C. albicans and other selected species of Candida as well as both intravenous challenge and skin and soft tissue infection with Staphylococcus aureus. The objectives of this first-in-human Phase I clinical trial were to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity of NDV-3 at two different antigen levels compared to a saline placebo. Forty healthy, adult subjects were randomized to receive one dose of NDV-3 containing either 30 or 300 μg of Als3p, or placebo. NDV-3 at both dose levels was safe and generally well-tolerated. Anti-Als3p total IgG and IgA1 levels for both doses reached peak levels by day 14 post vaccination, with 100% seroconversion of all vaccinated subjects. On average, NDV-3 stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) production of both IFN-γ and IL-17A, which peaked at day 7 for subjects receiving the 300 μg dose and at day 28 for those receiving the 30 μg dose. Six months after receiving the first dose of NDV-3, nineteen subjects received a second dose of NDV-3 identical to their first dose to evaluate memory B- and T-cell immune responses. The second dose resulted in a significant boost of IgG and IgA1 titers in >70% of subjects, with the biggest impact in those receiving the 30 μg dose. A memory T-cell response was also noted for IFN-γ in almost all subjects and for IL-17A in the majority of subjects. These data support the continued investigation of NDV-3 as a vaccine candidate against Candida and S. aureus infections.
PMCID: PMC3513491  PMID: 23099329
vaccine; phase 1; first-in-human; Als3p; Candida; Staphylococcus aureus
20.  SR-Like RNA-Binding Protein Slr1 Affects Candida albicans Filamentation and Virulence 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(4):1267-1276.
Candida albicans causes both mucosal and disseminated infections, and its capacity to grow as both yeast and hyphae is a key virulence factor. Hyphal formation is a type of polarized growth, and members of the SR (serine-arginine) family of RNA-binding proteins influence polarized growth of both Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Aspergillus nidulans. Therefore, we investigated whether SR-like proteins affect filamentous growth and virulence of C. albicans. BLAST searches with S. cerevisiae SR-like protein Npl3 (ScNpl3) identified two C. albicans proteins: CaNpl3, an apparent ScNpl3 ortholog, and Slr1, another SR-like RNA-binding protein with no close S. cerevisiae ortholog. Whereas ScNpl3 was critical for growth, deletion of NPL3 in C. albicans resulted in few phenotypic changes. In contrast, the slr1Δ/Δ mutant had a reduced growth rate in vitro, decreased filamentation, and impaired capacity to damage epithelial and endothelial cells in vitro. Mice infected intravenously with the slr1Δ/Δ mutant strain had significantly prolonged survival compared to that of mice infected with the wild-type or slr1Δ/Δ mutant complemented with SLR1 (slr1Δ/Δ+SLR1) strain, without a concomitant decrease in kidney fungal burden. Histopathology, however, revealed differential localization of slr1Δ/Δ hyphal and yeast morphologies within the kidney. Mice infected with slr1Δ/Δ cells also had an increased brain fungal burden, which correlated with increased invasion of brain, but not umbilical vein, endothelial cells in vitro. The enhanced brain endothelial cell invasion was likely due to the increased surface exposure of the Als3 adhesin on slr1Δ/Δ cells. Our results indicate that Slr1 is an SR-like protein that influences C. albicans growth, filamentation, host cell interactions, and virulence.
PMCID: PMC3639594  PMID: 23381995
21.  Aspergillus Galactosaminogalactan Mediates Adherence to Host Constituents and Conceals Hyphal β-Glucan from the Immune System 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(8):e1003575.
Aspergillus fumigatus is the most common cause of invasive mold disease in humans. The mechanisms underlying the adherence of this mold to host cells and macromolecules have remained elusive. Using mutants with different adhesive properties and comparative transcriptomics, we discovered that the gene uge3, encoding a fungal epimerase, is required for adherence through mediating the synthesis of galactosaminogalactan. Galactosaminogalactan functions as the dominant adhesin of A. fumigatus and mediates adherence to plastic, fibronectin, and epithelial cells. In addition, galactosaminogalactan suppresses host inflammatory responses in vitro and in vivo, in part through masking cell wall β-glucans from recognition by dectin-1. Finally, galactosaminogalactan is essential for full virulence in two murine models of invasive aspergillosis. Collectively these data establish a role for galactosaminogalactan as a pivotal bifunctional virulence factor in the pathogenesis of invasive aspergillosis.
Author Summary
Invasive aspergillosis is the most common mold infection in humans, predominately affecting immunocompromised patients. The mechanisms by which the mold Aspergillus fumigatus adheres to host tissues and causes disease are poorly understood. In this report, we compared mutants of Aspergillus with different adhesive properties to identify fungal factors involved in adherence to host cells. This approach identified a cell wall associated polysaccharide, galactosaminogalactan, which is required for adherence to a wide variety of substrates. Galactosaminogalactan was also observed to suppress inflammation by concealing β-glucans, key pattern associated microbial pattern molecules in Aspergillus hyphae, from recognition by the innate immune system. Mutants that were deficient in galactosaminogalactan were less virulent in mouse models of invasive aspergillosis. These data identify a bifunctional role for galactosaminogalactan in the pathogenesis of invasive aspergillosis, and suggest that it may serve as a useful target for antifungal therapy.
PMCID: PMC3749958  PMID: 23990787
22.  Candida albicans CUG Mistranslation Is a Mechanism To Create Cell Surface Variation 
mBio  2013;4(4):e00285-13.
In the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans, the CUG codon is translated 97% of the time as serine and 3% of the time as leucine, which potentially originates an array of proteins resulting from the translation of a single gene. Genes encoding cell surface proteins are enriched in CUG codons; thus, CUG mistranslation may influence the interactions of the organism with the host. To investigate this, we compared a C. albicans strain that misincorporates 28% of leucine at CUGs with a wild-type parental strain. The first strain displayed increased adherence to inert and host molecules. In addition, it was less susceptible to phagocytosis by murine macrophages, probably due to reduced exposure of cell surface β-glucans. To prove that these phenotypes occurred due to serine/leucine exchange, the C. albicans adhesin and invasin ALS3 was expressed in Saccharomyces cerevisiae in its two natural isoforms (Als3p-Leu and Als3p-Ser). The cells with heterologous expression of Als3p-Leu showed increased adherence to host substrates and flocculation. We propose that CUG mistranslation has been maintained during the evolution of C. albicans due to its potential to generate cell surface variability, which significantly alters fungus-host interactions.
The translation of genetic information into proteins is a highly accurate cellular process. In the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans, a unique mistranslation event involving the CUG codon occurs. The CUG codon is mainly translated as serine but can also be translated as leucine. Leucine and serine are two biochemically distinct amino acids, hydrophobic and hydrophilic, respectively. The increased rate of leucine incorporation at CUG decoding triggers C. albicans virulence attributes, such as morphogenesis, phenotypic switching, and adhesion. Here, we show that CUG mistranslation masks the fungal cell wall molecule β-glucan that is normally recognized by the host immune system, delaying its response. Furthermore, we demonstrate that two different proteins of the adhesin Als3 generated by CUG mistranslation confer increased hydrophobicity and adhesion ability on yeast cells. Thus, CUG mistranslation functions as a mechanism to create protein diversity with differential activities, constituting an advantage for a mainly asexual microorganism. This could explain its preservation during evolution.
PMCID: PMC3697807  PMID: 23800396
23.  Mouse Model of Oropharyngeal Candidiasis 
Nature protocols  2012;7(4):637-642.
Oropharyngeal candidiasis is a frequent cause of morbidity in patients with defects in cell-mediated immunity or saliva production. Animal models of this infection are important for studying disease pathogenesis and evaluating vaccines and antifungal therapies. Here we describe a simple murine model of oropharyngeal candidiasis. Mice are rendered susceptible to oral infection by injection with cortisone acetate and then inoculated by placing a swab saturated with Candida albicans sublingually. This process results in a reproducible level of infection, the histopathology of which mimics that of pseudomembranous oropharyngeal candidiasis in patients. Using this model, data are obtained after 5–9 days of work.
PMCID: PMC3671943  PMID: 22402633
24.  Endothelial Cell Stimulation by Candida albicans 
The opportunistic fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, enters the bloodstream and causes hematogenously disseminated infection in hospitalized patients. During the initiation of a hematogenously disseminated infection, endothelial cells are one of the first host cells to come in contact with C. albicans. Endothelial cells can significantly influence the local host response to C. albicans by expressing leukocyte adhesion molecules and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Thus, it is of interest to investigate the response of endothelial cells to C. albicans in vitro. We describe the use of real-time PCR and enzyme immunoassays to measure the effects of C. albicans on the endothelial cell production of E-selectin and tumor necrosis factor α in vitro.
PMCID: PMC3659782  PMID: 19089392
Endothelial cell; Candida albicans; E-selectin; IL-8; EIA; real-time PCR
25.  Regulatory Role of Glycerol in Candida albicans Biofilm Formation 
mBio  2013;4(2):e00637-12.
Biofilm formation by Candida albicans on medically implanted devices poses a significant clinical challenge. Here, we compared biofilm-associated gene expression in two clinical C. albicans isolates, SC5314 and WO-1, to identify shared gene regulatory responses that may be functionally relevant. Among the 62 genes most highly expressed in biofilms relative to planktonic (suspension-grown) cells, we were able to recover insertion mutations in 25 genes. Twenty mutants had altered biofilm-related properties, including cell substrate adherence, cell-cell signaling, and azole susceptibility. We focused on one of the most highly upregulated genes in our biofilm proles, RHR2, which specifies the glycerol biosynthetic enzyme glycerol-3-phosphatase. Glycerol is 5-fold-more abundant in biofilm cells than in planktonic cells, and an rhr2Δ/Δ strain accumulates 2-fold-less biofilm glycerol than does the wild type. Under in vitro conditions, the rhr2Δ/Δ mutant has reduced biofilm biomass and reduced adherence to silicone. The rhr2Δ/Δ mutant is also severely defective in biofilm formation in vivo in a rat catheter infection model. Expression profiling indicates that the rhr2Δ/Δ mutant has reduced expression of cell surface adhesin genes ALS1, ALS3, and HWP1, as well as many other biofilm-upregulated genes. Reduced adhesin expression may be the cause of the rhr2Δ/Δ mutant biofilm defect, because overexpression of ALS1, ALS3, or HWP1 restores biofilm formation ability to the mutant in vitro and in vivo. Our findings indicate that internal glycerol has a regulatory role in biofilm gene expression and that adhesin genes are among the main functional Rhr2-regulated genes.
Candida albicans is a major fungal pathogen, and infection can arise from the therapeutically intractable biofilms that it forms on medically implanted devices. It stands to reason that genes whose expression is induced during biofilm growth will function in the process, and our analysis of 25 such genes confirms that expectation. One gene is involved in synthesis of glycerol, a small metabolite that we find is abundant in biofilm cells. The impact of glycerol on biofilm formation is regulatory, not solely metabolic, because it is required for expression of numerous biofilm-associated genes. Restoration of expression of three of these genes that specify cell surface adhesins enables the glycerol-synthetic mutant to create a biofilm. Our findings emphasize the significance of metabolic pathways as therapeutic targets, because their disruption can have both physiological and regulatory consequences.
PMCID: PMC3622937  PMID: 23572557

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