Expanding fungal pathogenesis: Cryptococcus breaks out of the opportunistic box

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Mar;9(3):193-203. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2522.


Cryptococcus neoformans is generally considered to be an opportunistic fungal pathogen because of its tendency to infect immunocompromised individuals, particularly those infected with HIV. However, this view has been challenged by the recent discovery of specialized interactions between the fungus and its mammalian hosts, and by the emergence of the related species Cryptococcus gattii as a primary pathogen of immunocompetent populations. In this Review, we highlight features of cryptococcal pathogens that reveal their adaptation to the mammalian environment. These features include not only remarkably sophisticated interactions with phagocytic cells to promote intracellular survival, dissemination to the central nervous system and escape, but also surprising morphological and genomic adaptations such as the formation of polyploid giant cells in the lung.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / microbiology
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology*
  • Cryptococcus / cytology
  • Cryptococcus / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Opportunistic Infections / microbiology*
  • Spores, Fungal / pathogenicity
  • Virulence