The fascinating ability of Candida albicans to undergo dramatic changes in cellular morphology has invited speculation that this plasticity in form contributes to the virulence of the organism. Molecular genetic analyses have confirmed this hypothesis and further demonstrated that genes that govern cellular morphology are co-regulated with genes encoding conventional virulence factors such as proteases and adhesins. The transcriptional regulatory networks of C. albicans thus ensure that hyphae are produced concomitantly with virulence factors, resulting in cells that are adapted for invading the tissues of an immunocompromised host. Hyphae are able to exert mechanical force, aiding penetration of epithelial surfaces, and hyphae damage endothelial cells, aiding escape of C. albicans from the host bloodstream into deeper tissue. Hyphal morphogenesis is thus an integral part of the overall virulence strategy of C. albicans.
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