Keratin hydrolysis by dermatophytes

Med Mycol. 2019 Jan 1;57(1):13-22. doi: 10.1093/mmy/myx160.


Dermatophytes are the most common cause of superficial fungal infections (tinea infections) and are a specialized group of filamentous fungi capable of infecting and degrading keratinised tissues, including skin, hair, and nail. Essential to their pathogenicity and virulence is the production of a broad spectrum of proteolytic enzymes and other key proteins involved in keratin biodegradation and utilization of its breakdown products. The initial stage of biodegradation of native keratin is considered to be sulfitolysis, in which the extensive disulfide bridges present in keratin are hydrolyzed, although some secreted subtilisins can degrade dye-impregnated keratin azure without prior reduction (Sub3 and Sub4). Sulfitolysis facilitates the extracellular biodegradation of keratin by the dermatophytes' extensive array of endo- and exoproteases. The importance of dermatophyte proteases in infection is widely recognized, and these enzymes have also been identified as important virulence determinants and allergens. Finally, the short peptide and amino acid breakdown products are taken up by the dermatophytes, using as yet poorly characterised transporters, and utilized for metabolism. In this review, we describe the process of keratin biodegradation by dermatophytes, with an especial focus on recent developments in cutting edge molecular biology and '-omic' studies that are helping to dissect the complex process of keratin breakdown and utilization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthrodermataceae / enzymology*
  • Arthrodermataceae / genetics
  • Arthrodermataceae / metabolism
  • Arthrodermataceae / pathogenicity
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Fungal
  • Genomics
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hydrolysis
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Peptide Hydrolases / genetics
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport / genetics
  • Tinea / metabolism
  • Virulence / genetics


  • Keratins
  • Peptide Hydrolases