Phenotypic Plasticity in the Productions of Virulence Factors Within and Among Serotypes in the Cryptococcus neoformans Species Complex
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The Cryptococcus neoformans species complex (CNSC) is a common opportunistic human fungal pathogen and the most frequent cause of fungal meningitis. There are three major serotypes in CNSC: A, D, and their hybrids AD, and they have different geographic distributions and medical significance. Melanin pigment and a polysaccharide capsule are the two major virulence factors in CNSC. However, the relationships between serotype and virulence factor production and how environmental factors might impact their relationships are not known. This study investigated the expressions of melanin and capsular polysaccharide in a genetically diverse group of CNSC strains and how their phenotypic expressions were influenced by oxidative and nitrosative stress levels. We found significant differences in melanin and capsular polysaccharide productions among serotypes and across stress conditions. Under oxidative stress, the laboratory hybrids exhibited the highest phenotypic plasticity for melanin production while serotype A showed the highest for capsular polysaccharide production. In contrast, serotype D exhibited the highest phenotypic plasticity for capsular polysaccharide production and clinical serotype AD the highest phenotypic plasticity for melanin production under nitrosative stress. These results demonstrated that different serotypes have different environmental condition-specific mechanisms to modulate the expression of virulence factors.
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