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Microbiol Rev. 1989 Jun;53(2):186-209.

Dimorphism in Histoplasma capsulatum: a model for the study of cell differentiation in pathogenic fungi.


Several fungi can assume either a filamentous or a unicellular morphology in response to changes in environmental conditions. This process, known as dimorphism, is a characteristic of several pathogenic fungi, e.g., Histoplasma capsulatum, Blastomyces dermatitidis, and Paracoccidioides brasiliensis, and appears to be directly related to adaptation from a saprobic to a parasitic existence. H. capsulatum is the most extensively studied of the dimorphic fungi, with a parasitic phase consisting of yeast cells and a saprobic mycelial phase. In culture, the transition of H. capsulatum from one phase to the other can be triggered reversibly by shifting the temperature of incubation between 25 degrees C (mycelia) and 37 degrees C (yeast phase). Mycelia are found in soil and never in infected tissue, in contrast to the yeast phase, which is the only form present in patients. The temperature-induced phase transition and the events in establishment of the disease state are very likely to be intimately related. Furthermore, the temperature-induced phase transition implies that each growth phase is an adaptation to two critically different environments. A fundamental question concerning dimorphism is the nature of the signal(s) that responds to temperature shifts. So far, both the responding cell component(s) and the mechanism(s) remain unclear. This review describes the work done in the last several years at the biochemical and molecular levels on the mechanisms involved in the mycelium to yeast phase transition and speculates on possible models of regulation of morphogenesis in dimorphic pathogenic fungi.

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