Phagosomal acidification is a critical cellular mechanism for the inhibition and killing of ingested microbes by phagocytic cells. The acidic environment activates microbicidal proteins and creates an unfavorable environment for the growth of many microbes. Consequently, numerous pathogenic microbes have developed strategies for countering phagosomal acidification through various mechanisms that include interference with phagosome maturation. The human-pathogenic fungus Cryptococcus neoformans resides in acidic phagosomes after macrophage ingestion that actually provides a favorable environment for replication, since the fungus replicates faster at acidic pH. We hypothesized that the glucuronic acid residues in the capsular polysaccharide had the capacity to affect phagosomal acidity through their acid-base properties. A ratiometric fluorescence comparison of imaged phagosomes containing C. neoformans to phagosomes containing beads showed that the latter were significantly more acidic. Similarly, phagosomes containing nonencapsulated C. neoformans cells were more acidic than those containing encapsulated cells. Acidbase titrations of isolated C. neoformans polysaccharide revealed that it behaves as a weak acid with maximal buffering capacity around pH 4 to 5. We interpret these results as indicating that the glucuronic acid residues in the C. neoformans capsular polysaccharide can buffer phagosomal acidification. Interference with phagosomal acidification represents a new function for the cryptococcal capsule in virulence and suggests the importance of considering the acid-base properties of microbial capsules in the host-microbe interaction for other microbes with charged residues in their capsules.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology