Mixed infections and in vivo evolution in the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans

Marie Desnos-Ollivier, Sweta Patel, Adam R. Spaulding, Caroline Charlier, Dea Garcia-Hermoso, Kirsten Nielsen, Françoise Dromer

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64 Scopus citations

Abstract

Koch's postulates are criteria establishing a causal relationship between a microbe and a disease that lead to the assumption that diseases are caused by a single strain or its evolved forms. Cryptococcus neoformans is a life-threatening human fungal pathogen responsible for an estimated 1 million cases of cryptococcosis/year, predominantly meningoencephalitis. To assess the molecular diversity of clinical isolates and gain knowledge of C. neoformans biology in the host, we analyzed clinical cultures collected during the prospective CryptoA/D study. Using molecular analysis of unpurified isolates, we demonstrated that mixed infections in humans are more common than previously thought, occurring in almost 20% of patients diagnosed with cryptococcosis. These mixed infections are composed of different mating types, serotypes, and/or genotypes. We also identified genetically related haploid and diploid strains in the same patients. Experimental infections and quantitative PCR show that these ploidy changes can result from endoreplication (duplication of DNA content) and that shuttling between haploid and diploid states can occur, suggesting in vivo evolution. Thus, the concept of one strain/one infection does not hold true for C. neoformans and may apply to other environmentally acquired fungal pathogens. Furthermore, the possibility of mixed and/or evolving infections should be taken into account when developing therapeutic strategies against these pathogens. IMPORTANCE: Cryptococcus neoformans is a life-threatening human fungal pathogen that is present in the environment and is responsible for an estimated 1 million cases of cryptococcosis/year, predominantly meningoencephalitis in HIV-infected patients. To assess the molecular diversity of clinical isolates and gain knowledge of C. neoformans biology in the host, we analyzed clinical cultures collected during a prospective study on cryptococcosis. Using molecular analysis of unpurified isolates, we uncovered an unexpectedly high frequency (almost 20%) of mixed infections. We further demonstrated that these mixed infections could result from infestation by multiple strains acquired from the environment. We also made the serendipitous discovery of in vivo evolution leading to endoreplication of the yeasts within the host. Thus, the concept of one strain causing one infection does not hold true for C. neoformans and potentially for other environmentally acquired fungal pathogens. The possibility of mixed and/or evolving infections should be taken into account when developing therapeutic strategies against these pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00091-10
JournalmBio
Volume1
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 2010

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