Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and therapy of infections caused by dematiaceous fungi

J Chemother. 2003 Nov;15 Suppl 2:36-47. doi: 10.1179/joc.2003.15.Supplement-2.36.


The dematiaceous (brown-pigmented) fungi are a large and heterogenous group of moulds that cause a wide range of diseases including phaeohyphomycosis, chromoblastomycosis, and eumycotic mycetoma. Among the more important human pathogens are Alternaria species, Bipolaris species, Cladophialophora bantiana, Curvularia species, Exophiala species, Fonsecaea pedrosoi, Madurella species, Phialophora species, Scedosporium prolificans, Scytalidium dimidiatum, and Wangiella dermatitidis. These organisms are widespread in the environment, being found in soil, wood, and decomposing plant debris. Cutaneous, subcutaneous, and corneal infections with dematiaceous fungi occur worldwide, but are more common in tropical and subtropical climates. Infection results from traumatic implantation. Most cases occur in immunocompetent individuals. Dematiaceous moulds are also important causes of invasive sinusitis and allergic fungal sinusitis. Infection is thought to follow inhalation. Although cerebral infection is the commonest form of systemic phaeohyphomycosis, other localized deep forms of the disease, such as arthritis, and endocarditis, have been reported. Disseminated infection is uncommon, but its incidence is increasing, particularly among immunocompromised individuals. Scedosporium prolificans is the most frequent cause. A number of dematiaceous fungi are neurotropic, including Cladophialophora bantiana, Ramichloridium mackenziei, and Wangiella dermatitidis. Although cases have occurred in immunocompromised persons, cerebral phaeohyphomycosis is most common in immunocompetent individuals with no obvious risk factors. Most forms of disease caused by dematiaceous fungi require both surgical and medical treatment. Itraconazole is currently the most effective antifungal agent for chromoblastomycosis and subcutaneous phaeohyphomycosis, while ketoconazole remains useful for mycetoma. Extensive surgical debridement combined with amphotericin B treatment is recommended for chronic invasive sinusitis. Long-term treatment with itraconazole has led to improvement or remission in some patients that had failed to respond to amphotericin B. Allergic fungal sinusitis requires surgical removal of impacted mucin combined with postoperative oral corticosteroids. Antifungal treatment is not usually of benefit, but post-operative itraconazole may reduce the need for reoperation. The clinical outcome of cerebral and other deep-seated forms of phaeohyphomycosis is dismal, with long-term survival being reported only when complete surgical resection of discrete lesions is possible. The development of new antifungal agents and combination treatment may help to improve the management of these infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Brain Diseases / microbiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Mitosporic Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Mycoses* / drug therapy
  • Mycoses* / epidemiology
  • Mycoses* / pathology
  • Sinusitis / microbiology
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Tropical Climate


  • Antifungal Agents