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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Nov 12;99(23):14907-12. Epub 2002 Oct 23.

Metabolic specialization associated with phenotypic switching in Candidaalbicans.

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  • 1Department of Stomatology, University of California, San Francisco 94143, USA.


Phase and antigenic variation are mechanisms used by microbial pathogens to stochastically change their cell surface composition. A related property, referred to as phenotypic switching, has been described for some pathogenic fungi. This phenomenon is best studied in Candida albicans, where switch phenotypes vary in morphology, physiology, and pathogenicity in experimental models. In this study, we report an application of a custom Affymetrix GeneChip representative of the entire C. albicans genome and assay the global expression profiles of white and opaque switch phenotypes of the WO-1 strain. Of 13,025 probe sets examined, 373 ORFs demonstrated a greater than twofold difference in expression level between switch phenotypes. Among these, 221 were expressed at a level higher in opaque cells than in white cells; conversely, 152 were more highly expressed in white cells. Affected genes represent functions as diverse as metabolism, adhesion, cell surface composition, stress response, signaling, mating type, and virulence. Approximately one-third of the differences between cell types are related to metabolic pathways, opaque cells expressing a transcriptional profile consistent with oxidative metabolism and white cells expressing a fermentative one. This bias was obtained regardless of carbon source, suggesting a connection between phenotypic switching and metabolic flexibility, where metabolic specialization of switch phenotypes enhances selection in relation to the nutrients available at different anatomical sites. These results extend our understanding of strategies used in microbial phase variation and pathogenesis and further characterize the unanticipated diversity of genes expressed in phenotypic switching.

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