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PLoS Pathog. 2011 Nov;7(11):e1002364. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002364. Epub 2011 Nov 17.

Deletion of Cryptococcus neoformans AIF ortholog promotes chromosome aneuploidy and fluconazole-resistance in a metacaspase-independent manner.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, United States of America.


Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death critical for development and homeostasis in multicellular organisms. Apoptosis-like cell death (ALCD) has been described in several fungi, including the opportunistic human pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans. In addition, capsular polysaccharides of C. neoformans are known to induce apoptosis in host immune cells, thereby contributing to its virulence. Our goals were to characterize the apoptotic signaling cascade in C. neoformans as well as its unique features compared to the host machinery to exploit the endogenous fungal apoptotic pathways as a novel antifungal strategy in the future. The dissection of apoptotic pathways revealed that apoptosis-inducing factor (Aif1) and metacaspases (Mca1 and Mca2) are independently required for ALCD in C. neoformans. We show that the apoptotic pathways are required for cell fusion and sporulation during mating, indicating that apoptosis may occur during sexual development. Previous studies showed that antifungal drugs induce ALCD in fungi and that C. neoformans adapts to high concentrations of the antifungal fluconazole (FLC) by acquisition of aneuploidy, especially duplication of chromosome 1 (Chr1). Disruption of aif1, but not the metacaspases, stimulates the emergence of aneuploid subpopulations with Chr1 disomy that are resistant to fluconazole (FLC(R)) in vitro and in vivo. FLC(R) isolates in the aif1 background are stable in the absence of the drug, while those in the wild-type background readily revert to FLC sensitivity. We propose that apoptosis orchestrated by Aif1 might eliminate aneuploid cells from the population and defects in this pathway contribute to the selection of aneuploid FLC(R) subpopulations during treatment. Aneuploid clinical isolates with disomies for chromosomes other than Chr1 exhibit reduced AIF1 expression, suggesting that inactivation of Aif1 might be a novel aneuploidy-tolerating mechanism in fungi that facilitates the selection of antifungal drug resistance.

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