Role of clathrin-mediated endocytosis in the use of heme and hemoglobin by the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans

Cell Microbiol. 2019 Mar;21(3):e12961. doi: 10.1111/cmi.12961. Epub 2018 Nov 20.


Heme is a major source of iron for pathogens of humans, and its use is critical in determining the outcome of infection and disease. Cryptococcus neoformans is an encapsulated fungal pathogen that causes life-threatening infections in immunocompromised individuals. C. neoformans effectively uses heme as an iron source, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly defined. Non-iron metalloporphyrins (MPPs) are toxic analogues of heme and are thought to enter microbial cells via endogenous heme acquisition systems. We therefore carried out a mutant screen for susceptibility against manganese MPP (MnMPP) to identify new components for heme uptake in C. neoformans. We identified several genes involved in signalling, DNA repair, sugar metabolism, and trafficking that play important roles in susceptibility to MnMPP and in the use of heme as an iron source. We focused on investigating the role of clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME) and found that several components of CME including Chc1, Las17, Rvs161, and Rvs167 are required for growth on heme and hemoglobin and for endocytosis and intracellular trafficking of these molecules. We show that the hemoglobin uptake process in C. neoformans involves clathrin heavy chain, Chc1, which appears to colocalise with hemoglobin-containing vesicles and to potentially assist in proper delivery of hemoglobin to the vacuole. Additionally, C. neoformans strains lacking Chc1, Las17, Rvs161, or Rvs167 were defective in the elaboration of several key virulence factors, and a las17 mutant was avirulent in a mouse model of cryptococcosis. Overall, this study unveils crucial functions of CME in the use of heme iron by C. neoformans and reveals a role for CME in fungal pathogenesis.

Keywords: CHC1; Cryptococcus; clathrin; endocytosis; heme; hemoglobin; iron.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clathrin / genetics
  • Clathrin / metabolism*
  • Clathrin-Coated Vesicles / genetics
  • Clathrin-Coated Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / drug effects
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / genetics
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / growth & development
  • Cryptococcus neoformans / metabolism*
  • Endocytosis*
  • Genetic Testing
  • Heme / metabolism*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Manganese / toxicity
  • Mice
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Clathrin
  • Hemoglobins
  • Virulence Factors
  • Heme
  • Manganese
  • Iron