Collectively, the genus Candida is the most important cause of fungal infections in the developed world, responsible for roughly 75% of disseminated or invasive fungal infections. This poses a significant clinical challenge as disseminated candidiasis is difficult to diagnose and is often refractory to antifungal therapy, leading to a mortality rate that has remained stubbornly high, at around 40%, for decades. Overlapping the Candida genus is a group of species referred to as the CTG clade, because they translate the CUG codon non-canonically. The CTG clade encompasses all of the clinically significant Candida species with the exception of C. glabrata, a commonly isolated pathogen despite being much more closely related to Saccharomyces cerevisiae than to CTG species, and C. krusei, a rare pathogen. Within the CTG clade there is a wide variation in the frequency with which the species are isolated: precise numbers differ between studies, but C. albicans remains responsible for more than half of disseminated candidiasis infections, while C. tropicalis and C. parapsilosis (~10% each) are commonly isolated. C. lusitaniae and C. guillermondii are infrequent pathogens and C. famata (aka Debaromyces hansenii) is rarely seen. Data from carefully controlled animal models broadly confirm that this epidemiological pattern reflects the inherent virulence of these species, though C. parapsilosis is probably less virulent than its incidence rate would imply. C. albicans is even more dominant in other common manifestations of candiosis, such as vaginitis and oropharyngeal thrush. The genetic diversity encompassed by these related species offers a tool with which to understand virulence in a novel way: by dissecting the response of each of these species to interactions with host cell through transcriptomics. This has been a very successful approach with C. albicans, identifying pathways of both stress resistance and metabolic adaptations. It has also highlighted large numbers of uncharacterized genes, many of which are specific to the CTG clade and some specific only to C. albicans and its closest relatives. We propose here to use comparative transcriptional profiling of seven CTG clade species, with a range of virulence from high (C. albicans) to very low (D. hansenii), during co-cultures with macrophages, a key component of mammalian antifungal immunity. Using high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), we will quantitatively determine transcript abundance from both the fungal and mammalian component during these interactions. Bioinformatic analysis will identify genes that are highly induced in th most virulent species (C. albicans and C. tropicalis) but either do not exist or are not regulated in the less virulent species. A prioritized subset of these genes will then be analyzed using molecular approaches to understand their role in virulence. Simultaneously, the profiles of the murine macrophages will both fill a present hole in the literature (no transcriptional analyses of murine primary cells have been reported) and, more importantly, will identify how the most virulent species may blunt the typical antifungal response to promote survival;several mechanisms of immunomodulation have been proposed but very little is known about how they might work. Finally, the clinical prominence of C. albicans has led to the vast majority of molecular work being performed in this single species. Far more genes have been knocked out in C. albicans than in all the other CTG species combined, even before considering mutant libraries generated by several labs. Very few transcript profiling studies have been performed in non-albicans species, and the data generated by this project will be an extremely valuable resource to understand these important species and to contribute to annotation of these genomes.
Candida species are the most important causes of life-threatening fungal infections, and fewer than ten species account for greater than 99% of infections. Some of these species are highly pathogenic and responsible for the majority of infections and some are much more rare causes of disease. Today, we have a wealth of underutilized genomic and genetic information about these species and this proposal seeks to use modern genomic technologies to identify genes important for infection by comparing highly pathogenic species with less pathogenic ones when in contact with mammalian phagocytic cells. We will then test genes that come from this analysis for their effect on the fungal-phagocyte interaction.