Peroxisomal and mitochondrial β-oxidation pathways influence the virulence of the pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans.
An understanding of the connections between metabolism and elaboration of virulence factors during host colonization by the human-pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans is important for developing antifungal therapies. Lipids are abundant in host tissues, and fungal pathogens in the phylum basidiomycota possess both peroxisomal and mitochondrial β-oxidation pathways to utilize this potential carbon source. In addition, lipids are important signaling molecules in both fungi and mammals. In this report, we demonstrate that defects in the peroxisomal and mitochondrial β-oxidation pathways influence the growth of C. neoformans on fatty acids as well as the virulence of the fungus in a mouse inhalation model of cryptococcosis. Disease attenuation may be due to the cumulative influence of altered carbon source acquisition or processing, interference with secretion, changes in cell wall integrity, and an observed defect in capsule production for the peroxisomal mutant. Altered capsule elaboration in the context of a β-oxidation defect was unexpected but is particularly important because this trait is a major virulence factor for C. neoformans. Additionally, analysis of mutants in the peroxisomal pathway revealed a growth-promoting activity for C. neoformans, and subsequent work identified oleic acid and biotin as candidates for such factors. Overall, this study reveals that β-oxidation influences virulence in C. neoformans by multiple mechanisms that likely include contributions to carbon source acquisition and virulence factor elaboration.