Candida albicans is a dimorphic fungus responsible for chronic mucocutaneous and systemic infections. Mucocutaneous immunity to C. albicans requires T helper 17 (Th17) cell differentiation that is thought to depend on recognition of filamentous C. albicans. Systemic immunity is considered T cell independent. Using a murine skin infection model, we compared T helper cell responses to yeast and filamentous C. albicans. We found that only yeast induced Th17 cell responses through a mechanism that required Dectin-1-mediated expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6) by Langerhans cells. Filamentous forms induced Th1 without Th17 cell responses due to the absence of Dectin-1 ligation. Notably, Th17 cell responses provided protection against cutaneous infection while Th1 cell responses provided protection against systemic infection. Thus, C. albicans morphology drives distinct T helper cell responses that provide tissue-specific protection. These findings provide insight into compartmentalization of Th cell responses and C. albicans pathogenesis and have critical implications for vaccine strategies.
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