Fungal pathogens cause devastating infections in millions of individuals each year, representing a huge but underappreciated burden on human health. One of these, the opportunistic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, kills hundreds of thousands of patients annually, disproportionately affecting people in resource-limited areas. This yeast is distinguished from other pathogenic fungi by a polysaccharide capsule that is displayed on the cell surface. The capsule consists of two complex polysaccharide polymers: a mannan substituted with xylose and glucuronic acid, and a galactan with galactomannan side chains that bear variable amounts of glucuronic acid and xylose. The cell wall, with which the capsule is associated, is a matrix of alpha and beta glucans, chitin, chitosan, and mannoproteins. In this review, we focus on synthesis of the wall and capsule, both of which are critical for the ability of this microbe to cause disease and are distinct from structures found in either model yeasts or the mammals afflicted by this infection. Significant research effort over the last few decades has been applied to defining the synthetic machinery of these two structures, including nucleotide sugar metabolism and transport, glycosyltransferase activities, polysaccharide export, and assembly and association of structural elements. Discoveries in this area have elucidated fundamental biology and may lead to novel targets for antifungal therapy. In this review, we summarize the progress made in this challenging and fascinating area, and outline future research questions.
- Cell wall
- Cryptococcus neoformans