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Infect Immun. 2019 Mar 4. pii: IAI.00046-19. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00046-19. [Epub ahead of print]

The mouse inhalation model of Cryptococcus neoformans infection recapitulates strain virulence in humans and shows closely related strains can possess differential virulence.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Biology Department, St. Catherine University, St Paul, MN.
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
School of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa.
Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda.
Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN


Cryptococcal meningitis (CM) causes high rates of HIV-related mortality, yet Cryptococcus factors influencing patient outcome are not well understood. Pathogen-specific traits, such as the strain genotype and degree of antigen shedding, are associated with clinical outcome but the underlying biology remains elusive. In this study, we examined factors determining disease outcome in HIV-infected cryptococcal meningitis patients infected with C. neoformans strains with the same multi-locus sequence type (MLST). Both patient mortality and survival were observed during infections with the same sequence type. Disease outcome was not associated with patient CD4 count. Patient mortality was associated with higher cryptococcal antigen levels, CSF fungal burden by quantitative culture, and low CSF fungal clearance. Virulence of a subset of clinical strains with the same sequence type were analyzed using the mouse inhalation model of cryptococcosis. We showed a strong association between human and mouse mortality rates, demonstrating the mouse inhalation model recapitulates human infection. Similar to human infection, the ability to multiply in vivo, demonstrated by high fungal burden in the lung and brain tissues, was associated with mouse mortality. Mouse survival time was not associated with single C. neoformans virulence factors in vitro or in vivo; rather, a trend in survival time correlated with a suite of traits. These observations show that MLST-derived genotype similarities between C. neoformans strains do not necessarily translate into similar virulence either in the mouse model or in human patients. In addition, our results show that in vitro assays do not fully reproduce in vivo conditions that influence C. neoformans virulence.


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