At the end of the 20th century the unique taxonomically enigmatic entity called Pneumocystis carinii was identified as a heterogeneous group of microscopic Fungi, constituted of multiple stenoxenic biological entities largely spread across ecosystems, closely adapted to, and coevolving in parallel with, mammal species. The discoveries and reasoning that led to the current conceptions about the taxonomy of Pneumocystis at the species level are examined here. The present review also focuses on the biological, morphological and phylogenetical features of Pneumocystis jirovecii, Pneumocystis oryctolagi, Pneumocystis murina, P. carinii and Pneumocystis wakefieldiae, the five Pneumocystis species described until now, mainly on the basis of the phylogenetic species concept. Interestingly, Pneumocystis organisms exhibit a successful adaptation enabling them to dwell and replicate in the lungs of both immunocompromised and healthy mammals, which can act as infection reservoirs. The role of healthy carriers in aerial disease transmission is nowadays recognized as a major contribution to Pneumocystis circulation, and Pneumocystis infection of nonimmunosuppressed hosts has emerged as a public health issue. More studies need to be undertaken both on the clinical consequences of the presence of Pneumocystis in healthy carriers and on the intricate Pneumocystis life cycle to better define its epidemiology, to adapt existing therapies to each clinical context and to discover new drug targets.
© 2010 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.