Exploring Cryptococcus neoformans capsule structure and assembly with a hydroxylamine-armed fluorescent probe

Conor J. Crawford, Radamés J.B. Cordero, Lorenzo Guazzelli, Maggie P. Wear, Anthony Bowen, Stefan Oscarson, Arturo Casadevall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Chemical biology is an emerging field that enables the study and manipulation of biological systems with probes whose reactivities provide structural insights. The opportunistic fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans possesses a polysaccharide capsule that is a major virulence factor, but is challenging to study. We report here the synthesis of a hydroxylamine-armed fluorescent probe that reacts with reducing glycans and its application to study the architecture of the C. neoformans capsule under a variety of conditions. The probe signal localized intracellularly and at the cell wall-membrane interface, implying the presence of reducing-end glycans at this location where the capsule is attached to the cell body. In contrast, no fluorescence signal was detected in the capsule body. We observed vesicle-like structures containing the reducing-end probe, both intra- and extracellularly, consistent with the importance of vesicles in capsular assembly. Disrupting the capsule with DMSO, ultrasound, or mechanical shear stress resulted in capsule alterations that affected the binding of the probe, as reducing ends were exposed and cell membrane integrity was compromised. Unlike the polysaccharides in the assembled capsule, isolated exopolysaccharides contained reducing ends. The reactivity of the hydroxylamine-armed fluorescent probe suggests a model for capsule assembly whereby reducing ends localize to the cell wall surface, supporting previous findings suggesting that this is an initiation point for capsular assembly. We propose that chemical biology is a promising approach for studying the C. neoformans capsule and its associated polysaccharides to unravel their roles in fungal virulence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4327-4340
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number13
StatePublished - Mar 27 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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