Fungal dimorphism: the switch from hyphae to yeast is a specialized morphogenetic adaptation allowing colonization of a host

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2015 Nov;39(6):797-811. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuv035. Epub 2015 Aug 6.


The ability of pathogenic fungi to switch between a multicellular hyphal and unicellular yeast growth form is a tightly regulated process known as dimorphic switching. Dimorphic switching requires the fungus to sense and respond to the host environment and is essential for pathogenicity. This review will focus on the role of dimorphism in fungi commonly called thermally dimorphic fungi, which switch to a yeast growth form during infection. This group of phylogenetically diverse ascomycetes includes Talaromyces marneffei (recently renamed from Penicillium marneffei), Blastomyces dermatitidis (teleomorph Ajellomyces dermatitidis), Coccidioides species (C. immitis and C. posadasii), Histoplasma capsulatum (teleomorph Ajellomyces capsulatum), Paracoccidioides species (P. brasiliensis and P. lutzii) and Sporothrix schenckii (teleomorph Ophiostoma schenckii). This review will explore both the signalling pathways regulating the morphological transition and the transcriptional responses necessary for intracellular growth. The physiological requirements of yeast cells during infection will also be discussed, highlighting recent advances in the understanding of the role of iron and calcium acquisition during infection.

Keywords: dimorphic switching; fungal pathogenesis; host; hyphae; morphogenetic; yeast.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Fungi / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Hyphae / physiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Yeasts / physiology