Membrane Integrity Contributes to Resistance of Cryptococcus neoformans to the Cell Wall Inhibitor Caspofungin

mSphere. 2022 Aug 31;7(4):e0013422. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00134-22. Epub 2022 Jun 27.


The fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans causes up to 278 000 infections each year globally, resulting in up to 180,000 deaths annually, mostly impacting immunocompromised people. Therapeutic options for C. neoformans infections are very limited. Caspofungin, a member of the echinocandin class of antifungals, is generally well tolerated but clinically ineffective against C. neoformans. We sought to identify biological processes that can be targeted to render the cell more susceptible to echinocandins by screening the available libraries of gene deletion mutants made in the KN99α background for caspofungin sensitivity. We adapted a Candida albicans fungal biofilm assay for the growth characteristics of C. neoformans and systematically screened 4,030 individual gene deletion mutants in triplicate plate assays. We identified 25 strains that showed caspofungin sensitivity. We followed up with a dose dependence assay, and 17 of the 25 were confirmed sensitive, 5 of which were also sensitive in an agar plate assay. We made new deletion mutant strains for four of these genes: CFT1, encoding an iron transporter; ERG4, encoding a sterol desaturase; MYO1, encoding a myosin heavy chain; and YSP2, encoding a sterol transporter. All were more sensitive to membrane stress and showed significantly increased sensitivity to caspofungin at higher temperatures. Surprisingly, none showed any obvious cell wall defects such as would be expected for caspofungin-sensitive strains. Our microscopy analyses suggested that loss of membrane integrity contributed to the caspofungin sensitivity, either by allowing more caspofungin to enter or remain in the cell or by altering the location or orientation of the enzyme target to render it more susceptible to inhibition. IMPORTANCE The intrinsic resistance of Cryptococcus neoformans to the cell wall inhibitor caspofungin limits the available therapies for treating cryptococcal infections. We screened a collection of more than 4,000 gene deletion strains for altered caspofungin sensitivity to identify biological processes that could be targeted to render the cell more susceptible to caspofungin. We identified multiple genes with an effect on caspofungin susceptibility and found that they were associated with altered membrane permeability rather than the expected cell wall defects. This suggests that targeting these genes or other genes affecting membrane permeability is a viable path for developing novel therapies for treating this global fungal pathogen.

Keywords: Cryptococcus neoformans; antifungal agents; antifungal resistance; fungal cell wall.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Caspofungin / pharmacology
  • Cell Wall / metabolism
  • Cryptococcosis*
  • Cryptococcus neoformans*
  • Echinocandins / pharmacology
  • Sterols


  • Echinocandins
  • Sterols
  • Caspofungin