Background: Breakthrough zygomycosis is increasingly observed among patients at high risk for fungal infection who are receiving voriconazole, reflecting either selective pressure or voriconazole-associated alterations in Zygomycetes virulence. We tested the latter hypothesis, using 2 phylogenetically disparate zygomycosis models.
Methods: Three Zygomycetes strains were exposed to voriconazole by serial passages on voriconazole-containing medium. The virulence of voriconazole-exposed Zygomycetes strains was compared with that of voriconazole-nonexposed strains in Drosophila and murine models of zygomycosis by assessment of survival curves, pulmonary fungal burdens, and expression of inflammation-associated genes.
Results: Among Toll-deficient (Tl(-/-)) and wild-type fruit flies, infection with Zygomycetes isolates that had been exposed to voriconazole yielded significantly lower survival rates than infection with Zygomycetes strains grown in drug-free media. In contrast, exposure of Rhizopus oryzae to itraconazole, amphotericin B, or caspofungin and exposure of Aspergillus fumigatus to voriconazole did not alter the virulence of these isolates in fruit flies. In the murine model, infection with a R. oryzae strain preexposed to voriconazole was associated with decreased survival rates and increased pulmonary fungal burdens, compared with infection with a voriconazole-nonexposed R. oryzae strain. In addition, enhanced angioinvasion, inflammation, and expression of genes involved in stress response and tissue repair were found in mouse lungs infected with voriconazole-exposed R. oryzae.
Conclusions: Exposure of Zygomycetes organisms to voriconazole selectively enhanced their virulence. The mechanisms underlying these phenotypic changes should be studied further.