Why does Candida albicans switch?

FEMS Yeast Res. 2009 Oct;9(7):973-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1567-1364.2009.00562.x. Epub 2009 Aug 7.


White-opaque switching in Candida albicans was first discovered in 1987. Fifteen years later, and three years after the discovery of the mating system, it was demonstrated that the switch from white to opaque was an essential step in the mating process. But this latter discovery did not reveal why C. albicans had this requirement, when Saccharomyces cerevisiae and other hemiascomycetes did not. The discovery that mating-competent opaque cells signaled mating-incompetent white cells, through the release of pheromones, to become adhesive and form biofilms provided a clue to this fundamental question. Opaque cells appeared to signal white cells to form biofilms that facilitated mating by protecting the fragile gradients of the pheromone that directed chemotropism, a process necessary for fusion. Here, we explore the discoveries and observations that have led to this hypothesis, and the ancillary questions that have risen that are related to the regulation of the unique pheromone response, the evolution of this response and the relationship between pheromone-enhanced white cell biofilms and 'asexual' biofilms formed by a/alpha cells. This discussion, therefore, focuses on a unique and complex component of the basic biology of C. albicans that relates switching, mating and pathogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Candida albicans / growth & development
  • Candida albicans / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion*
  • Cell Fusion*
  • Pheromones / biosynthesis*
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • Pheromones