While research has identified an important contribution for metals, such as iron, in microbial pathogenesis, the roles of other transition metals, such as copper, remain mostly unknown. Recent evidence points to a requirement for copper homeo-stasis in the virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans based on a role for a CUF1 copper regulatory factor in mouse models and in a human patient cohort. C. neoformans is an important fungal pathogen that results in an estimated 600,000 AIDS-related deaths yearly. In the present studies, we found that a C. neoformans mutant lacking the CUF1-dependent copper transporter, CTR4, grows normally in rich medium at 37°C but has reduced survival in macrophages and attenuated virulence in a mouse model. This reduced survival and virulence were traced to a growth defect under nutrient-restricted conditions. Expression studies using a full-length CTR4-fluorescent fusion reporter construct demonstrated robust expression in macrophages, brain, and lung, the latter shown by ex vivo fluorescent imaging. Inductively coupled mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS) was used to probe the copper quota of fungal cells grown in defined medium and recovered from brain, which suggested a role for a copper-protective function of CTR4 in combination with cell metallothioneins under copper-replete conditions. In summary, these data suggest a role for CTR4 in copper-related homeostasis and subsequently in fungal virulence.
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