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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Dec 18;98(26):15245-50. Epub 2001 Dec 11.

Cryptococcus neoformans interactions with amoebae suggest an explanation for its virulence and intracellular pathogenic strategy in macrophages.

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Department of Microbiology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.


Cryptococcus neoformans (Cn) is a soil fungus that causes life-threatening meningitis in immunocompromised patients and is a facultative intracellular pathogen capable of replication inside macrophages. The mechanism by which environmental fungi acquire and maintain virulence for mammalian hosts is unknown. We hypothesized that the survival strategies for Cn after ingestion by macrophages and amoebae were similar. Microscopy, fungal and amoebae killing assays, and phagocytosis assays revealed that Cn is phagocytosed by and replicates in Acanthamoeba castellanii, which leads to death of amoebae. An acapsular strain of Cn did not survive when incubated with amoebae, but melanization protected these cells against killing by amoebae. A phospholipase mutant had a decreased replication rate in amoebae compared with isogenic strains. These observations suggest that cryptococcal characteristics that contribute to mammalian virulence also promote fungal survival in amoebae. Intracellular replication was accompanied by the accumulation of polysaccharide containing vesicles similar to those described in Cn-infected macrophages. The results suggest that the virulence of Cn for mammalian cells is a consequence of adaptations that have evolved for protection against environmental predators such as amoebae and provide an explanation for the broad host range of this pathogenic fungus.

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