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Cell Microbiol. 2003 Aug;5(8):513-22.

Phenotypic switching of Cryptococcus neoformans can influence the outcome of the human immune response.

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Department of Experimental Medicine and Biochemical Sciences, University of Perugia, Italy.


The human pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans exhibits the phenomenon of phenotypic switching, a process that generates variant colonies that can differ in morphology, virulence and other characteristics such as capsular glucuronoxylomannan (GXM) size and structure. A previous study established that mucoid colony (MC) variants of C. neoformans were more virulent and elicited a different inflammatory response than smooth colony (SM) variants. In this study, we investigated the interaction of cells from MC and SM variants and their respective GXMs with human T cells and monocytes. Specifically, we measured CD40, CD80 and CD86 expression, lymphoproliferation and interleukin (IL)-4, IL-10, interferon (IFN)-gamma and IL-12Rbeta2 expression in the presence and absence of variant cells and their GXMs. For some immune parameters, both MC and SM strains produced similar results, in particular no differences were observed in IL-4 induction. However, for other critical parameters, including CD86 expression, lymphoproliferation and IL-10 production, the MC variant had effects that can be expected to impair the immune response. Hence, a single C. neoformans strain can elicit several different immune responses depending on the colony type expressed, and this is unlikely to be accounted for by differences in phagocytosis only. The results provide a potential explanation for the higher virulence of the MC variant based on the concept that these cells inhibit the development of a vigorous immune response. Furthermore, the results suggest a mechanism by which phenotypic switching can generate variants able to evade the immune response.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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