Assessing Differences between Clinical Isolates of Aspergillus fumigatus from Cases of Proven Invasive Aspergillosis and Colonizing Isolates with Respect to Phenotype (Virulence in Tenebrio molitor Larvae) and Genotype

Pathogens. 2022 Mar 31;11(4):428. doi: 10.3390/pathogens11040428.


The fungus Aspergillus fumigatus, the cause of invasive aspergillosis (IA), is a serious risk to transplant patients and those with respiratory diseases. Host immune suppression is considered the most important factor for the development of IA. Less is known about the importance of fungal virulence in the development of IA including the significance of variation between isolates. In this study, isolates of A. fumigatus from cases diagnosed as having proven IA or colonisation (no evidence of IA) were compared in assays to measure isolate virulence. These assays included the measurement of radial growth and protease production on agar, sensitivity to UV light and oxidative stressors, and virulence in Tenebrio molitor (mealworm) larvae. These assays did not reveal obvious differences in virulence between the two groups of isolates; this provided the impetus to conduct genomic analysis. Whole genome sequencing and analysis did not allow grouping into coloniser or IA isolates. However, focused analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms revealed variation in three putative genes: AFUA_5G09420 (ccg-8), AFUA_4G00330, and AFUA_4G00350. These are known to be responsive to azole exposure, and ccg-8 deletion leads to azole hypersensitivity in other fungi. A. fumigatus virulence is challenging, but the findings of this study indicate that further research into the response to oxidative stress and azole exposure are required to understand the development of IA.

Keywords: Aspergillus fumigatus; Tenebrio molitor; aspergillosis; disease modelling; mealworm; pathogenesis; virulence.