Cryptococcus neoformans is a ubiquitous, opportunistic fungal pathogen that kills almost 200,000 people worldwide each year. It is acquired when mammalian hosts inhale the infectious propagules; these are deposited in the lung and, in the context of immunocompromise, may disseminate to the brain and cause lethal meningoencephalitis. Once inside the host, C. neoformans undergoes a variety of adaptive processes, including secretion of virulence factors, expansion of a polysaccharide capsule that impedes phagocytosis, and the production of giant (Titan) cells. The transcription factor Pdr802 is one regulator of these responses to the host envi-ronment. Expression of the corresponding gene is highly induced under host-like conditions in vitro and is critical for C. neoformans dissemination and virulence in a mouse model of infection. Direct targets of Pdr802 include the quorum sensing proteins Pqp1, Opt1, and Liv3; the transcription factors Stb4, Zfc3, and Bzp4, which regulate cryptococcal brain infectivity and capsule thickness; the calcineurin targets Had1 and Crz1, important for cell wall remodeling and C. neoformans virulence; and additional genes related to resistance to host temperature and oxidative stress, and to urease activity. Notably, cryptococci engineered to lack Pdr802 showed a dramatic increase in Titan cells, which are not phagocytosed and have diminished ability to directly cross biological barriers. This explains the limited dissemination of pdr802 mutant cells to the central nervous system and the consequently reduced virulence of this strain. The role of Pdr802 as a negative regulator of Titan cell formation is thus critical for cryptococcal pathogenicity. IMPORTANCE The pathogenic yeast Cryptococcus neoformans presents a worldwide threat to human health, especially in the context of immunocompromise, and current antifungal therapy is hindered by cost, limited availability, and inadequate effi-cacy. After the infectious particle is inhaled, C. neoformans initiates a complex transcriptional program that integrates cellular responses and enables adaptation to the host lung environment. Here, we describe the role of the transcription factor Pdr802 in the response to host conditions and its impact on C. neoformans virulence. We identified direct targets of Pdr802 and also discovered that it regulates cellular features that influence movement of this pathogen from the lung to the brain, where it causes fatal disease. These findings significantly advance our understanding of a seri-ous disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03457-20
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Capsule
  • Cryptococcus neoformans
  • Fungal pathogens
  • Pathogenesis
  • Pathogenic yeast
  • Pdr802
  • Quorum sensing
  • Titan cells
  • Transcription factors


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