Phagocytic amoeboid predators such as amoeba have been proposed to select for survival traits in soil microbes such as Cryptococcus neoformans that can also function in animal virulence by defeating phagocytic immune cells, such as macrophages. Several prior studies have shown that incubation of various fungal species with amoeba can enhance their virulence. However, the mechanisms by which fungi adapt to amoeba and thus change their virulence are unknown. In this study we exposed three strains of C. neoformans (1 clinical and 2 environmental) to predation by Acanthamoeba castellanii for prolonged periods of time and then analyzed surviving colonies phenotypically and genetically. Surviving colonies were comprised of cells that expressed either pseudohyphal or yeast phenotypes, which demonstrated variable expression of such traits associated with virulence such as capsule size, urease production and melanization. Phenotypic changes were associated with aneuploidy and DNA sequence mutations in some amoeba-passaged isolates, but not in others. Mutations in the gene encoding for the oligopeptide transporter (CNAG_03013; OPT1) were observed among amoeba-passaged isolates from each of the three strains. In addition, isolates derived from environmental strains gained the capacity for enhanced macrophage toxicity after amoeba selection and carried mutations on the CNAG_00570 gene, which encodes Pkr1 (AMP-dependent protein kinase regulator) but were less virulence in mice because they elicited more effective fungal-clearing immune responses. Our results indicate that C. neoformans survival under constant amoeba predation involves the generation of strains expressing pleiotropic phenotypic and genetic changes, which confer increase resistance against protozoal predation. Given the myriad of potential predators in soils the diversity observed among amoeba-selected strains suggests a bet-hedging strategy whereby variant diversity increases the likelihood that some will survive predation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)