The ability of Candida albicans to cause disease is associated with its capacity to undergo morphological transition between yeast and filamentous forms, but the role of morphology in colonisation and dissemination from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract remains poorly defined. To explore this, we made use of wild type and morphological mutants of C. albicans in an established model of GI tract colonization, induced following antibiotic-treatment of mice. Our data reveal that GI tract colonization favours the yeast form of C.?albicans, that there is constitutive low level systemic dissemination in colonized mice that occurs irrespective of fungal morphology, and that colonization is not controlled by Th17 immunity in otherwise immunocompetent animals. These data provide new insights into the mechanisms of pathogenesis and commensalism of C. albicans, and have implications for our understanding of human disease.
Candida albicans, a major human fungal pathogen, is the primary cause of invasive candidiasis in a wide array of immunocompromised patients. C. albicans virulence requires the ability to undergo a reversible morphological transition from yeast to filaments in response to a variety of host environmental cues. These cues are sensed by the pathogen and activate multiple signal transduction pathways to induce filamentation. Reversible phosphorylation events are critical for regulation of many of these pathways. While a variety of protein kinases are known to function as components of C. albicans filamentous growth signal transduction pathways, considerably little is known about the role of phosphatases. Here we demonstrate that PPG1, encoding a putative type 2A-related protein phosphatase, is important for C. albicans filament extension, invasion and virulence in a mouse model of systemic candidiasis. PPG1 is also important for down-regulation of NRG1, a key transcriptional repressor of C. albicans filamentous growth, and is shown to affect the expression of several filament-specific target genes. An epistasis analysis suggests that PPG1 controls C. albicans filamentation via the cAMP-PKA signaling pathway. We demonstrate that Ppg1 possesses phosphatase activity and that a ppg1 catalytic mutant shows nearly equivalent filamentation, invasion and virulence defects when compared to those of a ppg1?/? strain. Overall, our results suggest that phosphatases, such as Ppg1, play critical roles in controlling and fine-tuning C. albicans filament extension and virulence as well as signal transduction pathways, transcriptional regulators and target genes associated with these processes.
While virulence properties of Candida albicans, the most commonly isolated human fungal pathogen, are controlled by transcriptional and post-translational mechanisms, considerably little is known about the role of post-transcriptional, and particularly translational, mechanisms. We demonstrate that UME6, a key filament-specific transcriptional regulator whose expression level is sufficient to determine C.?albicans morphology and promote virulence, has one of the longest 5' untranslated regions (UTRs) identified in fungi to date, which is predicted to form a complex and extremely stable secondary structure. The 5' UTR inhibits the ability of UME6, when expressed at constitutive high levels, to drive complete hyphal growth, but does not cause a reduction in UME6 transcript. Deletion of the 5' UTR increases C.?albicans filamentation under a variety of conditions but does not affect UME6 transcript level or induction kinetics. We show that the 5' UTR functions to inhibit Ume6 protein expression under several filament-inducing conditions and specifically reduces association of the UME6 transcript with polysomes. Overall, our findings suggest that translational efficiency mechanisms, known to regulate diverse biological processes in bacterial and viral pathogens as well as higher eukaryotes, have evolved to inhibit and fine-tune morphogenesis, a key virulence trait of many human fungal pathogens.
In this issue of Cell Host & Microbe, Lu et al. (2013) report on the redundancy of signaling pathways controlling Candida albicans filamentation and pathogenicity. In the process, they provide important insight into how this normal commensal of humans adapts to different host microenvironments to become a highly successful opportunistic pathogen.
Morphological transitions play an important role in virulence and virulence-related processes in a wide variety of pathogenic fungi, including the most commonly isolated human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. While environmental signals, transcriptional regulators, and target genes associated with C. albicans morphogenesis are well-characterized, considerably little is known about morphological regulatory mechanisms and the extent to which they are evolutionarily conserved in less pathogenic and less filamentous non-albicans Candida species (NACS). We have identified specific optimal filament-inducing conditions for three NACS (C. tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, and C. guilliermondii), which are very limited, suggesting that these species may be adapted for niche-specific filamentation in the host. Only a subset of evolutionarily conserved C. albicans filament-specific target genes were induced upon filamentation in C. tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, and C. guilliermondii. One of the genes showing conserved expression was UME6, a key filament-specific regulator of C. albicans hyphal development. Constitutive high-level expression of UME6 was sufficient to drive increased filamentation as well as biofilm formation and partly restore conserved filament-specific gene expression in both C. tropicalis and C. parapsilosis, suggesting that evolutionary differences in filamentation ability among pathogenic Candida species may be partially attributed to alterations in the expression level of a conserved filamentous growth machinery. In contrast to UME6, NRG1, an important repressor of C. albicans filamentation, showed only a partly conserved role in controlling NACS filamentation. Overall, our results suggest that C. albicans morphological regulatory functions are partially conserved in NACS and have evolved to respond to more specific sets of host environmental cues.
Many of the major human fungal pathogens are known to undergo morphological changes, which in certain cases are associated with virulence. Although there has been an intense research focus on morphology in fungi, very little is known about how morphology evolved in conjunction with a variety of other virulence properties. However, several recent important discoveries, primarily in Candida species, are beginning to shed light on this important area and answer many longstanding questions. In this minireview, we first provide a description of the major fungal morphologies, as well as the roles of morphology and morphology-associated gene expression in virulence. Next, focusing largely on Candida species, we examine the evolutionary relationships among specific morphological forms. Finally, drawing on recent findings, we begin to address the question of how specific morphological changes came to be associated with virulence of Candida species during evolution.
The ability of Candida albicans, the most common human fungal pathogen, to transition from yeast to hyphae is essential for pathogenicity. While a variety of transcription factors important for filamentation have been identified and characterized, links between transcriptional regulators of C. albicans morphogenesis and molecular mechanisms that drive hyphal growth are not well defined. We have previously observed that constitutive expression of UME6, which encodes a filament-specific transcriptional regulator, is sufficient to direct hyphal growth in the absence of filament-inducing conditions. Here we show that HGC1, encoding a cyclin-related protein necessary for hyphal growth under filament-inducing conditions, is specifically important for agar invasion, hyphal extension, and formation of true septa in response to constitutive UME6 expression under non-filament-inducing conditions. HGC1-dependent inactivation of Rga2, a Cdc42 GTPase activating protein (GAP), also appears to be important for these processes. In response to filament-inducing conditions, HGC1 is induced prior to UME6 although UME6 controls the level and duration of HGC1 expression, which are likely to be important for hyphal extension. Interestingly, an epistasis analysis suggests that UME6 and HGC1 play distinct roles during early filament formation. These findings establish a link between a key regulator of filamentation and a downstream mechanism important for hyphal formation. In addition, this study demonstrates that a strain expressing constitutive high levels of UME6 provides a powerful strategy to specifically dissect downstream mechanisms important for hyphal development in the absence of complex filament-inducing conditions.
Biofilms are dynamic microbial communities in which transitions between planktonic and sessile modes of growth occur interchangeably in response to different environmental cues. In the last decade, early events associated with C. albicans biofilm formation have received considerable attention. However, very little is known about C. albicans biofilm dispersion or the mechanisms and signals that trigger it. This is important because it is precisely C. albicans cells dispersed from biofilms that are the main culprits associated with candidemia and establishment of disseminated invasive disease, two of the gravest forms of candidiasis. Using a simple flow biofilm model recently developed by our group, we have performed initial investigations into the phenomenon of C. albicans biofilm dispersion, as well as the phenotypic characteristics associated with dispersed cells. Our results indicate that C. albicans biofilm dispersion is dependent on growing conditions, including carbon source and pH of the media used for biofilm development. C. albicans dispersed cells are mostly in the yeast form and display distinct phenotypic properties compared to their planktonic counterparts, including enhanced adherence, filamentation, biofilm formation and, perhaps most importantly, increased pathogenicity in a murine model of hematogenously disseminated candidiasis, thus indicating that dispersed cells are armed with a complete arsenal of "virulence factors" important for seeding and establishing new foci of infection. In addition, utilizing genetically engineered strains of C. albicans (tetO-UME6 and tetO-PES1) we demonstrate that C. albicans biofilm dispersion can be regulated by manipulating levels of expression of these key genes, further supporting the evidence for a strong link between biofilms and morphogenetic conversions at different stages of the C. albicans biofilm developmental cycle. Overall, our results offer novel and important insight into the phenomenon of C. albicans biofilm dispersion, a key part of the biofilm developmental cycle, and provide the basis for its more detailed analysis.
Candida albicans, the major human fungal pathogen, undergoes a reversible morphological transition from single yeast cells to pseudohyphal and hyphal filaments (elongated cells attached end-to-end). Because typical C. albicans infections contain a mixture of these morphologies it has, for many years, been difficult to assess the relative contribution of each form to virulence. In addition, the regulatory mechanisms that determine growth in pseudohyphal and hyphal morphologies are largely unknown. To address these questions we have generated a C. albicans strain that can be genetically manipulated to grow completely in the hyphal form under non-filament-inducing conditions in vitro. This was achieved by inducing high-level constitutive expression of UME6, a recently identified filament-specific transcriptional regulator of C. albicans hyphal extension. We show that high-level UME6 expression significantly increases hyphal formation and promotes virulence in a mouse model of systemic candidiasis. Our results strongly suggest that shifting the morphology of a C. albicans population toward the hyphal form, and/or increasing hyphal-specific gene expression, during the course of infection is sufficient to improve virulence potential. We also demonstrate that lower levels of UME6 expression specify growth largely in the pseudohyphal form and that increasing UME6 levels is sufficient to cause cells to gradually shift from pseudohyphal to hyphal morphology. In addition, we show that UME6 levels differentially induce the expression of several known filament-specific transcripts. These findings suggest that a common transcriptional regulatory mechanism functions to specify both pseudohyphal and hyphal morphologies in a dosage-dependent manner.
Candida albicans, the most common cause of human fungal infections, undergoes a reversible morphological transition from yeast to pseudohyphal and hyphal filaments, which is required for virulence. For many years, the relationship among global gene expression patterns associated with determination of specific C. albicans morphologies has remained obscure. Using a strain that can be genetically manipulated to sequentially transition from yeast to pseudohyphae to hyphae in the absence of complex environmental cues and upstream signaling pathways, we demonstrate by whole-genome transcriptional profiling that genes associated with pseudohyphae represent a subset of those associated with hyphae and are generally expressed at lower levels. Our results also strongly suggest that in addition to dosage, extended duration of filament-specific gene expression is sufficient to drive the C. albicans yeast-pseudohyphal-hyphal transition. Finally, we describe the first transcriptional profile of the C. albicans reverse hyphal-pseudohyphal-yeast transition and demonstrate that this transition involves not only down-regulation of known hyphal-specific, genes but also differential expression of additional genes that have not previously been associated with the forward transition, including many involved in protein synthesis. These findings provide new insight into genome-wide expression patterns important for determining fungal morphology and suggest that in addition to similarities, there are also fundamental differences in global gene expression as pathogenic filamentous fungi undergo forward and reverse morphological transitions.
Biofilm formation is associated with the ability of Candida albicans, the major human fungal pathogen, to resist antifungal therapies and grow on tissues, catheters, and medical devices. In order to better understand the relationship between C. albicans morphology and biofilm formation, we examined biofilms generated in response to expression of UME6, a key filament-specific transcriptional regulator. As UME6 levels rise, C. albicans cells are known to transition from yeast to hyphae, and we also observed a corresponding increase in the level of biofilm formation in vitro. In addition to forming a biofilm, we observed that a C. albicans strain expressing constitutive high levels of UME6 promoted tissue invasion in a reconstituted human three-dimensional model of oropharyngeal candidiasis. Confocal microscopy indicated that both the top and bottom layers of the biofilm generated upon high-level constitutive UME6 expression consist primarily of hyphal cells. UME6-driven biofilm formation was reduced upon deletion of Hgc1, a cyclin-related protein important for hyphal development, as well as Sun41, a putative cell wall glycosidase. Constitutive high-level UME6 expression was also able to completely bypass both the filamentation and biofilm defects of a strain deleted for Efg1, a key transcriptional regulator of these processes. Finally, we show that both Sun41 and Efg1 affect the ability of UME6 to induce certain filament-specific transcripts. Overall, these findings indicate a strong correlation between increased C. albicans hyphal growth and enhanced biofilm formation and also suggest functional relationships between UME6 and other regulators of biofilm development.
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