The game theory of Candida albicans colonization dynamics reveals host status-responsive gene expression

BMC Syst Biol. 2016 Mar 1:10:20. doi: 10.1186/s12918-016-0268-1.


Background: The fungal pathogen Candida albicans colonizes the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of mammalian hosts as a benign commensal. However, in an immunocompromised host, the fungus is capable of causing life-threatening infection. We previously showed that the major transcription factor Efg1p is differentially expressed in GI-colonizing C. albicans cells dependent on the host immune status. To understand the mechanisms that underlie this host-dependent differential gene expression, we utilized mathematical modeling to dissect host-pathogen interactions. Specifically, we used principles of evolutionary game theory to study the mechanism that governs dynamics of EFG1 expression during C. albicans colonization.

Results: Mathematical modeling predicted that down-regulation of EFG1 expression within individual fungal cells occurred at different average rates in different hosts. Rather than using relatively transient signaling pathways to adapt to a new environment, we demonstrate that C. albicans overcomes the host defense strategy by modulating the activity of diverse fungal histone modifying enzymes that control EFG1 expression.

Conclusion: Based on our modeling and experimental results we conclude that C. albicans cells sense the local environment of the GI tract and respond to differences by altering EFG1 expression to establish optimal survival strategies. We show that the overall process is governed via modulation of epigenetic regulators of chromatin structure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Candida albicans / cytology
  • Candida albicans / genetics*
  • Candida albicans / physiology*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fungal Proteins / genetics
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Game Theory*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • EFG1 protein, Candida albicans
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Histones
  • Transcription Factors