'Division of labour' in response to host oxidative burst drives a fatal Cryptococcus gattii outbreak

Nat Commun. 2014 Oct 17;5:5194. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6194.


Cryptococcus gattii is an emerging intracellular pathogen and the cause of the largest primary outbreak of a life-threatening fungal disease in a healthy population. Outbreak strains share a unique mitochondrial gene expression profile and an increased ability to tubularize their mitochondria within host macrophages. However, the underlying mechanism that causes this lineage of C. gattii to be virulent in immunocompetent individuals remains unexplained. Here we show that a subpopulation of intracellular C. gattii adopts a tubular mitochondrial morphology in response to host reactive oxygen species. These fungal cells then facilitate the rapid growth of neighbouring C. gattii cells with non-tubular mitochondria, allowing for effective establishment of the pathogen within a macrophage intracellular niche. Thus, host reactive oxygen species, an essential component of the innate immune response, act as major signalling molecules to trigger a 'division of labour' in the intracellular fungal population, leading to increased pathogenesis within this outbreak lineage.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cryptococcosis / immunology*
  • Cryptococcosis / microbiology
  • Cryptococcus gattii / pathogenicity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Genotype
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Macrophages / microbiology
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Respiratory Burst*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases