The buoyancy of Cryptococcus neoformans is affected by capsule size

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Cryptococcus neoformans is an environmental pathogenic fungus with a worldwide geographical distribution that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of human cryptococcosis cases each year. During infection, the yeast undergoes a morphological transformation involving capsular enlargement that increases microbial volume. To understand the factors that play a role in environmental dispersal of C. neoformans and C. gattii, we evaluated the cell density of Cryptococcus using Percoll isopycnic gradients. We found differences in the cell densities of strains belonging to C. neoformans and C. gattii species complexes. The buoyancy of C. neoformans strains varied depending on growth medium. In minimal medium, the cryptococcal capsule made a major contribution to the cell density such that cells with larger capsules had lower density than those with smaller capsules. Removing the capsule, by chemical or mechanical methods, increased the C. neoformans cell density and reduced buoyancy. Melanization of the C. neoformans cell wall, which also contributes to virulence, produced a small but consistent increase in cell density. Encapsulated C. neoformans sedimented much more slowly in seawater as its density approached the density of water. Our results suggest a new function for the capsule whereby it can function as a flotation device to facilitate transport and dispersion in aqueous fluids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00534-18
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Buoyancy
  • Capsular polysaccharide
  • Cryptococcus neoformans
  • Yeast density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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