Virulence Factors of Medically Important Fungi
Introduction Medically important fungi (Pathogenic ) , fungi that cause systemic mycoses retain several factors which allow their growth in adverse conditions provided by the host, leading to the establishment of the parasitic relationship and contributing to disease development.
These factors are known as virulence factors which favor the infection process and the pathogenesis of the mycoses. pathogenic fungi such as Blastomyces dermatitidis, Coccidioides immitisCryptococcus neoformans, Histoplasma capsulatum andParacoccidioides brasiliensis
virulence factors are Thermotoleran dimorphism capsule Cell wall components enzyme production
Virulence factors favor fungal adhesion Colonization dissemination and the ability to survive in hostile environments and elude the immune response mechanisms of the host
Mycologists estimate that there are 100,000 species of fungi in nature. These fungi inhabit different niches, a number of them are symbiotic and may live in commensalism, mutualism or parasitism with other organisms. However, only some of the fungal species are pathogenic to man, a fact that has led to several studies providing a better understanding of the relationship among parasite, host and virulence factors
The symbiotic-parasitic relationship produces an infectious process leading to lesions of the host tissues and establishment of disease due to a direct imbalance in parasite-host interaction.
The host provides conditions for growth that usually differ markedly from the ecological niche that the fungus normally inhabits. In order to survive in this new environment, potential pathogens must withstand high temperatures, hormonal influences and attacks by phagocytes cells of the immune system
Factors that affect the transition from the saprophytic to parasite form in host-fungus relationship.
This process of adaptation to a more resistant form to the new microenvironment frequently results in aggression to host tissues. Some fungi, such as dimorphic fungi, have a greater ability to grow in adverse conditions provided by the host, and to produce disease.
This process called pathogenicity is considered to be the result of direct interaction between the pathogen and host. Several fungal factors may help in this relationship and are frequently studied being known as virulence factors
Thermotolerance The ability to survive and replicate at 37°C seems to be a common property of pathogenic fungi . This phenomenon, known as thermotolerance , is observed in, Cryptococcus neoformans Histoplasma capsulatum and Sporothrix schenckii
Most isolates of C. neoformans var gattii that do not grow efficiently at 37oC are not able to produce fatal infection in mice whereas isolates of var neoformans germinate and grow at 37°C producing lethal infection
Low-virulence strains of H. capsulatum require more time for mycelium-to-yeast-phase transition at 37ºC whereas the more virulent strains are capable of withstanding drastic temperature changes and of transforming more quickly
Isolates of S. schenckii from systemic lesions can grow at 35ºC and at 37ºC, but isolates from fixed cutaneous lesions can only grow at 35ºC
It is believed that even small differences in temperature tolerance can influence the pathogenic potential of a microorganism as well as the formof disease presented by the host
Dimorphism Dimorphism is a fungal characteristic which depends on alteration of temperature and/or nutrients favoring fungal installation and helping the fungus to withstand the aggression by the host
These facts allow to suggest that the ability of transformation to the parasitic form appears to be an important virulence mechanism for the pathogenicity of dimorphic fungi
In nature, dimorphic fungi frequently occur in their mycelial form. This form induces production of conidia, small propagules capable of establishing in lung tissue. These propagules are infecting forms that are found in P. brasiliensis B. dermatitidis , H. capsulatum and C. immitis
Cell wall components and capsule Both the cell wall and the capsules synthesized by fungi are structures that protect microorganisms from the host attacks (Table 1) and are considered the major targets for studies on virulence
Adhesion molecules Adhesion of pathogenic microorganisms to host tissues has been regarded as the first and major step in colonization and dissemination of the parasite
The cell/cell and cell/extracellular matrix adhesion observed in some fungi such as C.albican, P. brasiliensis, B. dermatitidis, H. capsulatum and C. neoformans occurs when the yeast forms have molecules on the cell wall or capsule which permit adhesion and/or dissemination of the fungal cell to other tissues. Fungal adhesion to the host tissues plays a critical role in infection
P. brasiliensis produces an antigen present on the cell wall, glycoprotein gp43, with the capacity to promote binding to laminin. This molecule is involved in adhesion to the basal membrane or to other components of the extracellular matrix, playing a major role in the dissemination of malignant tumors
Thus, in paracoccidioidomycosis, North-American blastomycosis and histoplasmosis, adhesion molecules seem to be associated with the installation, replication and dissemination of the fungus in the host, as well as with the stimulation of the respiratory burst or synthesis of cytokines by the cellsphagocytic
Hormone receptors Studies usingSaccharomyces cerevisiae revealed the presence of receptors for 17ß-estradiol in the cytosol of the fungal cell. These high-affinity and high-specificity receptors provided an efficient interaction between the hormones and the receptor.
Detailed investigations showed that the fungus has metabolites that bind competitively with 17ß-estradiol binding sites in the yeast and with estrogen receptors, suggesting that hormones may alter the fungal metabolism or that the fungal substances may affect the host metabolism
Studies demonstrated that 17ß-estradiol stimulates the in vitro growth of the C. immitis, altering the rate spherule maturation and endospore release and that the fungus presents receptor for the hormone in the cytosol
. In addition, it has been reporteld that other hormones such as testosterone and progesterone also stimulate funga growth
Enzyme Production Fungi secrete several hydrolytic enzymes such as proteinases, lipases and phospholipases in culture media.
These enzymes, which play a pivotal role in fungal metabolism, may be involved in the pathogenesis of infection, causing damage to the host cells and providing nutrients in a restricted environment
Extracellular proteinases may play a role in survival of the pathogen on mucosal surfaces invasion of host tissues adherence digestion of immunoglobulins
Thus, production of proteinases by certain pathogenic fungi has been recognized as a potentially important virulence factor
C. immitis endospores produce proteinases with elastase and collagenase activity. These enzymes were found in culture filtrates of fungus and might play an essential role in the pathogenesis of coccidioidomycosis
clinical isolates of neoformansvar. neoformansC. were shown to secrete proteases and DNase in culture medium, extracellular C. neoformans was capable of degrading human plasma proteins.
Thus, enzyme production and release by the parasitic phase of pathogenic fungi appear to be involved in the pathogenesis of systemic mycoses, as they are closely related to invasion and tissue damage caused by fungi.
When facing agressive conditions some fungi are able to use various and complex strategies involving mechanisms such as suppression of cytokine production reduction of the fungicidal activity of macrophages
production of a capsule Utilization of the alternative complement pathway
These mechanisms lead to immunoregulatory disturbances and impairment of the host defenses
Mycotoxins Aflatoxin are a small group of mycotoxins produced by the fungi from the genus Aspergillus, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus , produces a natural occurring human carcinogen, bis-furanocumarin that is found in aflatoxin ,
. Aflatoxins are known contaminants on corn, peanuts, tree nuts, cottonseed and certain meats and hypoallergenic milks
Aflatoxin combines with the host deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA) to change the structure of the DNA by modifying the NADPH-dependent enzyme to inhibit the binding with the cytochrome P450 thus causing the suppression of ribonucleic acid (RNA) synthesis and ultimately protein synthesis.
Aflatoxin is removed quickly from the blood stream through the bile duct at a rate of 65% in 90 minutes. The half-life was determined to be 13 minutes in humans.
Medically important yeasts of the genus Candida secrete aspartic proteinases (Saps), which are of particular interest as virulence factors. Like Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis secretes in vitro one dominant Sap (Sapt1p) in a medium containing bovine serum albumin (BSA) as the sole source of nitrogen
Urease Produced by Coccidioides posadasii Contributes to the Virulence of this Respiratory Pathogen
Ammonia and enzymatically active urease released from spherules during the parasitic cycle of C. posadasii contribute to host tissue damage, which exacerbates the severity of coccidioidal infection and enhances the virulence of this human respiratory pathogen.
β-1,3 Glucan is present in the outermost layer of the Histoplasma capsulatum yeast cell wall and contributes to pathogenesis by concealing immunostimulatory β- glucans from detection by host phagocytic cells