Cryptococcus neoformans is a ubiquitous, opportunistic fungal pathogen that kills over600,000 people annually. Here, we report integrated computational and experimental investigations of the role and mechanisms of transcriptional regulation in cryptococcal infection. Major cryptococcal virulence traits include melanin production and the development of a large polysaccharide capsule upon host entry; shed capsule polysaccharides also impair host defenses. We found that both transcription and translation are required for capsule growth and that Usv101 is a master regulator of pathogenesis, regulating melanin production, capsule growth, and capsule shedding. It does this by directly regulating genes encoding glycoactive enzymes and genes encoding three other transcription factors that are essential for capsule growth: GAT201, RIM101, and SP1. Murine infection with cryptococci lacking Usv101 significantly alters the kinetics and pathogenesis of disease, with extended survival and, unexpectedly, death by pneumonia rather than meningitis. Our approaches and findings will inform studies of other pathogenic microbes. IMPORTANCE Cryptococcus neoformans causes fatal meningitis in immunocompromised individuals, mainly HIV positive, killing over 600,000 each year. A unique feature of this yeast, which makes it particularly virulent, is its polysaccharide capsule; this structure impedes host efforts to combat infection. Capsule size and structure respond to environmental conditions, such as those encountered in an infected host. We have combined computational and experimental tools to elucidate capsule regulation, which we show primarily occurs at the transcriptional level. We also demonstrate that loss of a novel transcription factor alters virulence factor expression and host cell interactions, changing the lethal condition from meningitis to pneumonia with an exacerbated host response. We further demonstrate the relevant targets of regulation and kinetically map key regulatory and host interactions. Our work elucidates mechanisms of capsule regulation, provides methods and resources to the research community, and demonstrates an altered pathogenic outcome that resembles some human conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00313-16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 19 2016


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