Titan cells confer protection from phagocytosis in Cryptococcus neoformans infections

Laura H. Okagaki, Kirsten Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


The human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans produces an enlarged "titan" cell morphology when exposed to the host pulmonary environment. Titan cells exhibit traits that promote survival in the host. Previous studies showed that titan cells are not phagocytosed and that increased titan cell production in the lungs results in reduced phagocytosis of cryptococcal cells by host immune cells. Here, the effect of titan cell production on host-pathogen interactions during early stages of pulmonary cryptococcosis was explored. The relationship between titan cell production and phagocytosis was found to be nonlinear; moderate increases in titan cell production resulted in profound decreases in phagocytosis, with significant differences occurring within the first 24 h of the infection. Not only were titan cells themselves protected from phagocytosis, but titan cell formation also conferred protection from phagocytosis to normal-size cryptococcal cells. Large particles introduced into the lungs were not phagocytosed, suggesting the large size of titan cells protects against phagocytosis. The presence of large particles was unable to protect smaller particles from phagocytosis, revealing that titan cell size alone is not sufficient to provide the observed cross-protection of normal-size cryptococcal cells. These data suggest that titan cells play a critical role in establishment of the pulmonary infection by promoting the survival of the entire population of cryptococcal cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)820-826
Number of pages7
JournalEukaryotic Cell
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


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