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Mucins Suppress Virulence Traits of Candida albicans

Kavanaugh, Nicole L., Zhang, Angela Q., Nobile, Clarissa J., Johnson, Alexander D., Ribbeck, Katharina
mBio 2014 v.5 no.6 pp. e01911-14
Candida albicans, adhesion, biofilm, biopolymers, blood flow, drug resistance, epithelial cells, gels, gene expression, gene expression regulation, genes, humans, hyphae, in vitro studies, microbial communities, mucins, mucosa, mucus, pathogens, virulence, yeasts
Candida albicans is the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans, causing a variety of diseases ranging from superficial mucosal infections to deep-seated systemic invasions. Mucus, the gel that coats all wet epithelial surfaces, accommodates C. albicans as part of the normal microbiota, where C. albicans resides asymptomatically in healthy humans. Through a series of in vitro experiments combined with gene expression analysis, we show that mucin biopolymers, the main gel-forming constituents of mucus, induce a new oval-shaped morphology in C. albicans in which a range of genes related to adhesion, filamentation, and biofilm formation are downregulated. We also show that corresponding traits are suppressed, rendering C. albicans impaired in forming biofilms on a range of different synthetic surfaces and human epithelial cells. Our data suggest that mucins can manipulate C. albicans physiology, and we hypothesize that they are key environmental signals for retaining C. albicans in the host-compatible, commensal state.