Airborne fungal pathogens, predominantly Aspergillus fumigatus, can cause severe respiratory tract diseases. Here we show that in environments, fungal spores can already be decorated with nanoparticles. Using representative controlled nanoparticle models, we demonstrate that various nanoparticles, but not microparticles, rapidly and stably associate with spores, without specific functionalization. Nanoparticle-spore complex formation was enhanced by small nanoparticle size rather than by material, charge, or "stealth" modifications and was concentration-dependently reduced by the formation of environmental or physiological biomolecule coronas. Assembly of nanoparticle-spore surface hybrid structures affected their pathobiology, including reduced sensitivity against defensins, uptake into phagocytes, lung cell toxicity, and TLR/cytokine-mediated inflammatory responses. Following infection of mice, nanoparticle-spore complexes were detectable in the lung and less efficiently eliminated by the pulmonary immune defense, thereby enhancing A. fumigatus infections in immunocompromised animals. Collectively, self-assembly of nanoparticle-fungal complexes affects their (patho)biological identity, which may impact human health and ecology.
Keywords: fungal infection; nanomedicine; nanoparticles.