Sexual reproduction and the evolution of microbial pathogens

Curr Biol. 2006 Sep 5;16(17):R711-25. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.07.064.


Three common systemic human fungal pathogens--Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida albicans and Aspergillus fumigatus--have retained all the machinery to engage in sexual reproduction, and yet their populations are often clonal with limited evidence for recombination. Striking parallels have emerged with four protozoan parasites that infect humans: Toxoplasma gondii, Trypanosoma brucei, Trypanosoma cruzi and Plasmodium falciparum. Limiting sexual reproduction appears to be a common virulence strategy, enabling generation of clonal populations well adapted to host and environmental niches, yet retaining the ability to engage in sexual or parasexual reproduction and respond to selective pressure. Continued investigation of the sexual nature of microbial pathogens should facilitate both laboratory investigation and an understanding of the complex interplay between pathogens, hosts, vectors, and their environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspergillus fumigatus / pathogenicity
  • Aspergillus fumigatus / physiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Candida albicans / pathogenicity
  • Candida albicans / physiology
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / pathogenicity
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / physiology
  • Eukaryota / pathogenicity*
  • Eukaryota / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mitosporic Fungi / pathogenicity*
  • Mitosporic Fungi / physiology
  • Phytophthora / pathogenicity
  • Phytophthora / physiology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / pathogenicity
  • Plasmodium falciparum / physiology
  • Reproduction, Asexual
  • Sex*
  • Toxoplasma / pathogenicity
  • Toxoplasma / physiology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / pathogenicity
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / physiology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / pathogenicity
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / physiology