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Dis Model Mech. 2019 Jun 17;12(6). pii: dmm039123. doi: 10.1242/dmm.039123.

Sensitive bioluminescence imaging of fungal dissemination to the brain in mouse models of cryptococcosis.

Author information

Biomedical MRI, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Molecular Small Animal Imaging Center (MoSAIC), KU Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Laboratory of Clinical Bacteriology and Mycology, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, KU Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.
RNA Biology of Fungal Pathogens, Department of Mycology, Pasteur Institute, Paris 75015, France.
Fungal Biology Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK.
Biomedical MRI, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, 3000 Leuven, Belgium


Cryptococcus neoformans is a leading cause of fungal brain infection, but the mechanism of dissemination and dynamics of cerebral infection following pulmonary disease are poorly understood. To address these questions, non-invasive techniques that can study the dynamic processes of disease development and progression in living animal models or patients are required. As such, bioluminescence imaging (BLI) has emerged as a powerful tool to evaluate the spatial and temporal distribution of infection in living animals. We aimed to study the time profile of the dissemination of cryptococcosis from the lung to the brain in murine models by engineering the first bioluminescent C. neoformans KN99α strain, expressing a sequence-optimized red-shifted luciferase. The high pathogen specificity and sensitivity of BLI was complemented by the three-dimensional anatomical information from micro-computed tomography (μCT) of the lung and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. These non-invasive imaging techniques provided longitudinal readouts on the spatial and temporal distribution of infection following intravenous, intranasal or endotracheal routes of inoculation. Furthermore, the imaging results correlated strongly with the fungal load in the respective organs. By obtaining dynamic and quantitative information about the extent and timing of brain infections for individual animals, we found that dissemination to the brain after primary infection of the lung is likely a late-stage event with a timeframe that is variable between animals. This novel tool in Cryptococcus research can aid the identification of host and pathogen factors involved in this process, and supports development of novel preventive or therapeutic approaches.


Blood-brain barrier; Cryptococcus; Fungal infection; Mouse model; Non-invasive imaging; Pulmonary disease

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsK.L. has received research grants and travel support from Gilead, MSD and Pfizer. She received speaker fees from Gilead, Roche and Abbott, and consultancy fees from Gilead, Pfizer, Abbott, MSD and SMB Laboratoires Brussels.

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