Host versus in vitro signals and intrastrain allelic differences in the expression of a Candida albicans virulence gene

Mol Microbiol. 2002 Jun;44(5):1351-66. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2002.02967.x.


The yeast Candida albicans is a harmless colonizer of mucosal surfaces in healthy people but can become a serious pathogen in immunocompromised patients, causing superficial as well as systemic infections. The evolution of gene families encoding pathogenicity-related functions, like adhesins and secreted aspartic proteinases (Saps), which are differentially induced by host signals at various stages of colonization and infection, may have allowed C. albicans an optimal adaptation to many different host niches. We found that even the two alleles of a single gene can be differentially regulated in the diploid C. albicans. In the model strain SC5314, the in vitro expression of one of the two SAP2 alleles, SAP2-1, depended on the presence of a functional SAP2-2 allele. In contrast, inactivation of SAP2-1 did not in-fluence the expression of SAP2-2. The proteinase encoded by the SAP2-2 allele serves as a signal sensor and amplifier to enhance its own expression as well as to induce the SAP2-1 allele to achieve maximal proteolytic activity under appropriate conditions. Using in vivo expression technology, we could demonstrate that the SAP2-1 allele is significantly activated only in the late stages of systemic candidiasis in mice, whereas the SAP2-2 allele is induced much earlier. The differential regulation of the two SAP2 alleles was due to differences in their pro-moters, which contained a variable number of two pentameric nucleotide repeats. Mutations that reduced or increased the copy number of these repeats diminished the inducibility of the SAP2 promoter during infection but not in vitro, suggesting that the mutations affected interactions of regulatory factors that are necessary for SAP2 activation in vivo but dispensable for its induction in vitro. Therefore, the signals and signal transduction pathways that mediate SAP2 expression within certain host niches may differ from those that activate the gene in vitro. In addition to the generation of gene families whose members exhibit functional and regulatory diversification, C. albicans seems to use its diploid genome to create further variability and host adaptation by differential evolution of even the two alleles of a single gene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases / genetics*
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Candida albicans / genetics*
  • Candida albicans / pathogenicity*
  • Female
  • Fungal Proteins*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Genes, Fungal*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Plasmids / metabolism
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic*
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Fungal Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Aspartic Acid Endopeptidases
  • SAP2 protein, Candida