A copper hyperaccumulation phenotype correlates with pathogenesis in Cryptococcus neoformans

Meera R. Raja, Scott R. Waterman, Jin Qiu, Reiner Bleher, Peter R. Williamson, Thomas V. O'Halloran*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Cryptococcus neoformans is a major human pathogen and a cause of meningoencephalitis in immunocompromised patients. Many factors contribute to the extraordinary survivability and pathogenicity of this fungus in humans, including copper homeostasis pathways. Previous work has shown that deletion of the copper-dependent regulator Cuf1 results in decreased virulence and dissemination in brain infection, suggesting that copper acquisition is important to the persistence of this pathogen. Here, we show that the minimal copper quota of C. neoformans is maintained at a high level even when grown under conditions of stringent copper limitation. Intriguingly, when this fungal pathogen is grown in standard and copper-enriched media, it sequesters even higher levels of this essential metal, achieving levels that are far higher than non-pathogenic S. cerevisiae. The hypothesis that copper acquisition plays an essential role in virulence is further corroborated by the findings that a hypovirulent CUF1-deletant strain of C. neoformans retrieved from infected mice contains almost a 6-fold lower concentration of intracellular copper than the pathogenic wild-type strain. The concentration difference arises in part from larger-sized cuf1Δ cell. Under in vitro growth conditions, the size of the cuf1Δ cells is normal and the hypertrophy phenotype is readily induced in vitro under conditions of copper starvation. Taken together, these data suggest that acquisition of extraordinary levels of copper is an important factor in the survivability of the pathogen in the copper-deplete environment of infection, and effective copper concentration may play an important role in the pathogenesis of C. neoformans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-371
Number of pages9
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (miscellaneous)
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Metals and Alloys

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