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Rev Iberoam Micol. 1997 Jun;14(2):44-9.

Mechanisms of antifungal resistance.

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Anti-Infectives Research Departments, Janssen Reseach Foundation, B2340 Beerse, Belgium.


The many drugs that are available at present to treat fungal infections can be divided into four broad groups on the basis of their mechanism of action. These antifungal agents either inhibit macromolecule synthesis (flucytosine), impair membrane barrier function (polyenes), inhibit ergosterol synthesis (allylamines, thiocarbamates, azole derivatives, morpholines), or interact with microtubules (griseofulvin). Drug resistance has been identified as the major cause of treatment failure among patients treated with flucytosine. A lesion in the UMP-pyrophosphorylase is the most frequent clinical determinant of resistance to 5FC in Candida albicans. Despite extensive use of polyene antibiotics for more than 30 years, emergence of acquired resistance seems not be a significant clinical problem. Polyene-resistant Candida isolates have a marked decrease in their ergosterol content. Acquired resistance to allylamines has not been reported from human pathogens, but, resistant phenotypes have been reported for variants of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and of Ustilago maydis. Tolerance to morpholines is seldom found. Intrinsic resistance to griseofulvin is due to the absence of a prolonged energy-dependent transport system for this antibiotic. Resistance to azole antifungal agents is known to be exceptional, although it does now appear to be increasing in importance in some groups of patients infected with e.g. Candida spp., Histoplasma capsulatum or Cryptococcus neoformans. For example, resistance to fluconazole is emerging in C. albicans, the major agent of oro-pharyngeal candidosis in AIDS patients, after long-term suppressive therapy. In the majority of cases, primary and secondary resistance to fluconazole and cross-resistance to other azole antifungal agents seems to originate from decreased intracellular accumulation of the azoles, which may result from reduced uptake or increased efflux of the molecules. In most C. albicans isolates the decreased intracellular levels can be correlated with enhanced azole efflux, a phenomenon linked to an increase in the amounts of mRNA of a C. albicans ABC transporter gene CDR1 and of a gene (BEN(r) or CaMDR) coding for a transporter belonging to the class of major facilitator multidrug efflux transporters. Not only fluconazole, ketoconazole and itraconazole are substrates for CDR1, terbinafine and amorolfine have also been established as substrates, BEN(r) overexpression only accounts for fluconazole resistance. Other sources of resistance: changes in membrane sterols and phospholipids, altered or overproduced target enzyme(s) and compensatory mutations in the Delta5,6-desaturase.

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