An estimated 1.5 million people die each year from invasive fungal infections, and many millions more are afflicted by debilitating mucosal and subcutaneous mycoses. Current antifungal therapies have serious deficiencies including poor efficacy, limited spectrum of activity, patient toxicity and the emergence of resistant fungi. Consequently, mortality rates have remained disturbingly high. A major obstacle to developing effective new antifungals is the fundamental similarity of these eukaryotic pathogens and their mammalian host at the cellular level. This presents a challenge in devising therapeutic agents with pathogen selective toxicity. The objective of this proposal is to substantiate the antifungal efficacy of chemotherapeutics that target the fungal vacuole. The absence of a closely related organelle in mammalian cells suggests that the vacuole may provide an invaluable opportunity to selectively target infectious fungi. Our molecular studies have shown that disrupting vacuolar integrity in the prevalent human pathogen, Candida albicans, severely impairs its ability to colonize mammalian tissue or cause lethal infection in mice. Vacuolar function is also essential for Cryptococcus neoformans to survive within the mammalian host and cause meningoencephalitis. In either fungus, loss of vacuolar function causes a multitude of pathogenesis related phenotypes, including hypersensitivity to a variety of stresses and severely diminished expression of virulence attributes. Therefore, we hypothesize that the fungal vacuole can be exploited to develop effective new antifungal therapies because it is essential for fungal pathogenesis, and has diverged significantly from the mammalian lysosome. To test this we have devised a high-throughput screening assay that has so far identified 82 potential Vacuole Disrupting chemical Agents (VDAs).
In Aim 1 of this study we will characterize the activity of these VDAs upon the fungal vacuole as well as the equivalent mammalian lysosome, and select those with potent and fungal- selective activity.
In Aim 2, we will select VDAs with the greatest in vitro antifungal activity. Finally, in Aim 3 we will identify the moleculr targets or pathways upon which the most efficacious VDAs act, and use a mouse model of disseminated candidiasis to test if the inhibition of these targets is sufficient to cure an established in vivo infection. Completion of these studies will uncover the true potential of targeting the fungal vacuole as a strategy to cure life-threatening fungal infections, establish a pipeline of 'lead'compounds that can form the basis of such interventions, as well as identify and validate chemically tractable targets.

Public Health Relevance

Life threatening fungal infections have steadily risen in recent decades, and associated mortality rates have remained disturbingly high. Existing antifungals have serious deficiencies including poor efficacy, patient toxicity, limited spectrum of activity ad the emergence of resistant fungi. This study will facilitate the development of new and improved antifungal treatments that cure fungal infections and improve patient outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Drug Discovery and Mechanisms of Antimicrobial Resistance Study Section (DDR)
Program Officer
Xu, Zuoyu
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Louisiana State Univ Hsc New Orleans
Schools of Medicine
New Orleans
United States
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Butts, Arielle; Reitler, Parker; Ge, Wenbo et al. (2018) Commonly Used Oncology Drugs Decrease Antifungal Effectiveness against Candida and Aspergillus Species. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 62:
Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Willems, Hubertine M E; Parker, Josie E et al. (2018) Loss of Upc2p-Inducible ERG3 Transcription Is Sufficient To Confer Niche-Specific Azole Resistance without Compromising Candida albicans Pathogenicity. MBio 9:
Tournu, Hélène; Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Peters, Brian M et al. (2017) In Vivo Indicators of Cytoplasmic, Vacuolar, and Extracellular pH Using pHluorin2 in Candida albicans. mSphere 2:
Butts, Arielle; Palmer, Glen E; Rogers, P David (2017) Antifungal adjuvants: Preserving and extending the antifungal arsenal. Virulence 8:198-210
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Peters, Brian M; Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Tournu, Hélène et al. (2017) An Azole-Tolerant Endosomal Trafficking Mutant of Candida albicans Is Susceptible to Azole Treatment in a Mouse Model of Vaginal Candidiasis. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 61:
Tournu, Helene; Carroll, Jennifer; Latimer, Brian et al. (2017) Identification of small molecules that disrupt vacuolar function in the pathogen Candida albicans. PLoS One 12:e0171145
Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Tournu, Hélène; Peters, Tracy L et al. (2016) Endosomal Trafficking Defects Can Induce Calcium-Dependent Azole Tolerance in Candida albicans. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 60:7170-7177
Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Peters, Brian M; Eberle, Karen E et al. (2015) ERG2 and ERG24 Are Required for Normal Vacuolar Physiology as Well as Candida albicans Pathogenicity in a Murine Model of Disseminated but Not Vaginal Candidiasis. Eukaryot Cell 14:1006-16
Luna-Tapia, Arturo; Kerns, Morgan E; Eberle, Karen E et al. (2015) Trafficking through the late endosome significantly impacts Candida albicans tolerance of the azole antifungals. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 59:2410-20

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