Functional analysis of host factors that mediate the intracellular lifestyle of Cryptococcus neoformans

PLoS Pathog. 2011 Jun;7(6):e1002078. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002078. Epub 2011 Jun 16.


Cryptococcus neoformans (Cn), the major causative agent of human fungal meningoencephalitis, replicates within phagolysosomes of infected host cells. Despite more than a half-century of investigation into host-Cn interactions, host factors that mediate infection by this fungal pathogen remain obscure. Here, we describe the development of a system that employs Drosophila S2 cells and RNA interference (RNAi) to define and characterize Cn host factors. The system recapitulated salient aspects of fungal interactions with mammalian cells, including phagocytosis, intracellular trafficking, replication, cell-to-cell spread and escape of the pathogen from host cells. Fifty-seven evolutionarily conserved host factors were identified using this system, including 29 factors that had not been previously implicated in mediating fungal pathogenesis. Subsequent analysis indicated that Cn exploits host actin cytoskeletal elements, cell surface signaling molecules, and vesicle-mediated transport proteins to establish a replicative niche. Several host molecules known to be associated with autophagy (Atg), including Atg2, Atg5, Atg9 and Pi3K59F (a class III PI3-kinase) were also uncovered in our screen. Small interfering RNA (siRNA) mediated depletion of these autophagy proteins in murine RAW264.7 macrophages demonstrated their requirement during Cn infection, thereby validating findings obtained using the Drosophila S2 cell system. Immunofluorescence confocal microscopy analyses demonstrated that Atg5, LC3, Atg9a were recruited to the vicinity of Cn containing vacuoles (CnCvs) in the early stages of Cn infection. Pharmacological inhibition of autophagy and/or PI3-kinase activity further demonstrated a requirement for autophagy associated host proteins in supporting infection of mammalian cells by Cn. Finally, systematic trafficking studies indicated that CnCVs associated with Atg proteins, including Atg5, Atg9a and LC3, during trafficking to a terminal intracellular compartment that was decorated with the lysosomal markers LAMP-1 and cathepsin D. Our findings validate the utility of the Drosophila S2 cell system as a functional genomic platform for identifying and characterizing host factors that mediate fungal intracellular replication. Our results also support a model in which host Atg proteins mediate Cn intracellular trafficking and replication.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cryptococcosis / metabolism
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / metabolism
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / physiology*
  • Drosophila
  • Genomic Library
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism
  • Intracellular Space / microbiology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • Phagosomes / metabolism
  • Phagosomes / microbiology
  • RNA Interference / physiology
  • Validation Studies as Topic