Current perspectives on echinocandin class drugs

Future Microbiol. 2011 Apr;6(4):441-57. doi: 10.2217/fmb.11.19.


It has been nearly a decade since caspofungin was approved for clinical use as the first echinocandin class antifungal agent, followed by micafungin and anidulafungin. The echinocandin drugs target the fungal cell wall by inhibiting the synthesis of β-1,3-D-glucan, a critical cell wall component of many pathogenic fungi. They are fungicidal for Candida spp. and fungistatic for moulds, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, where they induce abnormal morphology and growth properties. The echinocandins have a limited antifungal spectrum but are highly active against most Candida spp., including azole-resistant strains and biofilms. As they target glucan synthase, an enzyme absent in mammalian cells, the echinocandins have a favorable safety profile. They show potent MIC and epidemiological cutoff values against susceptible Candida and Aspergillus isolates, and the frequency of resistance is low. When clinical breakthrough occurs, it is associated with high MIC values and mutations in Fks subunits of glucan synthase, which can reduce the sensitivity of the enzyme to the drug by several thousand-fold. Such strains were not adequately captured by an early clinical breakpoint for susceptibility prompting a revised lower value, which addresses the FKS resistance mechanism and new pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic studies. Elevated MIC values unlinked to therapeutic failure can occur and result from adaptive cell behavior, which is FKS-independent and involves the molecular chaperone Hsp90 and the calcineurin pathway. Mutations in FKS1 and/or FKS2 alter the kinetic properties of glucan synthase, which reduces the relative fitness of mutant strains causing them to be less pathogenic. The echinocandin drugs also modify the cell wall architecture exposing buried glucans, which in turn induce a variety of important host immune responses. Finally, the future for glucan synthase inhibitors looks bright with the development of new orally active compounds.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antifungal Agents* / pharmacokinetics
  • Antifungal Agents* / pharmacology
  • Antifungal Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Aspergillus / drug effects*
  • Aspergillus / pathogenicity
  • Candida / drug effects*
  • Candida / pathogenicity
  • Drug Resistance, Fungal / drug effects
  • Echinocandins* / pharmacokinetics
  • Echinocandins* / pharmacology
  • Echinocandins* / therapeutic use
  • Glucosyltransferases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Glucosyltransferases / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Echinocandins
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • glucan synthase