Hydrolytic enzymes as virulence factors of Candida albicans


Privatdozent Dr M. Schaller, Department of Dermatology and Allergology, University of Tuebingen, Liebermeisterstrasse 25, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany.
Tel.: +49 701 2984555. Fax: +49 701 295113.
E-mail: martin.schaller@med.uni-tuebingen.de


Candida albicans is a facultative pathogenic micro-organism that has developed several virulence traits enabling invasion of host tissues and avoidance of host defence mechanisms. Virulence factors that contribute to this process are the hydrolytic enzymes. Most of them are extracellularly secreted by the fungus. The most discussed hydrolytic enzymes produced by C. albicans are secreted aspartic proteinases (Saps). The role of these Saps for C. albicans infections was carefully evaluated in numerous studies, whereas only little is known about the physiological role of the secreted phospholipases (PL) and almost nothing about the involvement of lipases (Lip) in virulence. They may play an important role in the pathogenicity of candidosis and their hydrolytic activity probably has a number of possible functions in addition to the simple role of digesting molecules for nutrition. Saps as the best-studied member of this group of hydrolytic enzymes contribute to host tissue invasion by digesting or destroying cell membranes and by degrading host surface molecules. There is also some evidence that hydrolytic enzymes are able to attack cells and molecules of the host immune system to avoid or resist antimicrobial activity. High hydrolytic activity with broad substrate specificity has been found in several Candida species, most notably in C. albicans. This activity is attributed to multigene families with at least 10 members for Saps and Lips and several members for PL B. Distinct members of these gene families are differentially regulated in various Candida infections. In future, prevention and control of Candida infections might be achieved by pharmacological or immunological tools specifically modulated to inhibit virulence factors, e.g. the family of Saps.