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Phenotypic Switching of Cryptococcus neoformans Can Produce Variants That Elicit Increased Intracranial Pressure in a Rat Model of Cryptococcal Meningoencephalitis

Fries, B. C., Lee, S. C., Kennan, R., Zhao, W., Casadevall, A., Goldman, D. L.
Infection and immunity 2005 v.73 no.3 pp. 1779-1787
Cryptococcus neoformans, animal models, brain, cerebrospinal fluid, fungi, inflammation, magnetic resonance imaging, meninges, meningoencephalitis, morbidity, mortality, rats
Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) plays an important role in the morbidity and mortality of cryptococcal meningoencephalitis. The microbial and host factors that contribute to the development of increased ICP are poorly understood. We found that phenotypic switch variants of Cryptococcus neoformans (smooth and mucoid) differed in their abilities to promote increased ICP in a rat model of cryptococcal meningitis. Rats infected with the mucoid variant developed increased ICP, whereas rats infected with the smooth parent did not. This trend correlated with a shorter survival time and a higher cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) fungal burden for mucoid variant-infected rats, although brain fungal burdens were comparable between mucoid variant- and smooth parent-infected rats. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed enhanced T2 signal intensity over the surfaces of the brains of mucoid variant-infected rats. In addition, more polysaccharide accumulated in the CSF and brains of mucoid variant-infected rats. The accumulation of glucorunoxylomannan was associated with elevated levels of MCP-1 (CCL2) and, accordingly, a more pronounced but ineffective monocytic inflammatory response in the meninges of mucoid variant-infected rats. In summary, these findings suggest that strain-specific characteristics can influence the development of increased ICP and indicate a manner in which phenotypic switching could influence the outcome of a central nervous system infection.