Cryptococcus neoformans: A sugar-coated killer with designer genes


  • John R. Perfect

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Medicine and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University Medical Center, P.O. Box 3353, Durham, NC 27710, United States
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Cryptococcus neoformans has become a common central nervous system pathogen as the immunocompromised populations enlarge world-wide. This encapsulated yeast has significant advantages for the study of fungal pathogenesis and these include: (1) a clinically important human pathogen; (2) a tractable genetic system; (3) advanced molecular biology foundation; (4) understanding of several virulence phenotypes; (5) well-studied pathophysiology; and (6) robust animal models. With the use of a sequenced genome and site-directed mutagenesis to produce specific null mutants, the virulence composite of C. neoformans has begun to be identified one gene at a time. Studies into capsule production, melanin synthesis, high temperature growth, metabolic pathways and a variety of signaling pathways have led to understandings of what makes this yeast a pathogen at the molecular level. Multiple principles of molecular pathogenesis have been demonstrated in virulence studies with C. neoformans. These include evolutionary differences between the varieties of C. neoformans in their genes for virulence, quantitative impact of genes on the virulence composite, species and site-specific importance of a virulence gene, gene expression correlation with its functional importance or phenotype and the impact of a pathogenesis gene on the host immune response. C. neoformans has now become a primary model to study molecular fungal pathogenesis with the goal of identifying drug targets or vaccine strategies.