Iron Regulation of the Major Virulence Factors in the AIDS-associated Pathogen Cryptococcus Neoformans

PLoS Biol. 2006 Nov;4(12):e410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0040410.

Abstract

Iron overload is known to exacerbate many infectious diseases, and conversely, iron withholding is an important defense strategy for mammalian hosts. Iron is a critical cue for Cryptococcus neoformans because the fungus senses iron to regulate elaboration of the polysaccharide capsule that is the major virulence factor during infection. Excess iron exacerbates experimental cryptococcosis and the prevalence of this disease in Sub-Saharan Africa has been associated with nutritional and genetic aspects of iron loading in the background of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We demonstrate that the iron-responsive transcription factor Cir1 in Cr. neoformans controls the regulon of genes for iron acquisition such that cir1 mutants are "blind" to changes in external iron levels. Cir1 also controls the known major virulence factors of the pathogen including the capsule, the formation of the anti-oxidant melanin in the cell wall, and the ability to grow at host body temperature. Thus, the fungus is remarkably tuned to perceive iron as part of the disease process, as confirmed by the avirulence of the cir1 mutant; this characteristic of the pathogen may provide opportunities for antifungal treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / microbiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Cell Wall / microbiology
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / genetics
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / metabolism
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / pathogenicity*
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Fungal Proteins / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal*
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Laccase / genetics
  • Laccase / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Temperature
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism*

Substances

  • Fungal Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Transcription Factors
  • Virulence Factors
  • Iron
  • Laccase
  • Calcium

Associated data

  • GENBANK/DQ631833
  • GENBANK/DQ631834