Iron and copper as virulence modulators in human fungal pathogens

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Fungal pathogens have evolved sophisticated machinery to precisely balance the fine line between acquiring essential metals and defending against metal toxicity. Iron and copper are essential metals for many processes in both fungal pathogens and their mammalian hosts, but reduce viability when present in excess. However, during infection, the host uses these two metals differently. Fe has a long-standing history of influencing virulence in pathogenic fungi, mostly in regards to Fe acquisition. Numerous studies demonstrate the requirement of the Fe acquisition pathway ofCandida,CryptococcusandAspergillusfor successful systemic infection. Fe is not free in the host, but is associated with Fe-binding proteins, leading fungi to develop mechanisms to interact with and to acquire Fe from these Fe-bound proteins. Cu is also essential for cell growth and development. Essential Cu-binding proteins include Fe transporters, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and cytochromecoxidase. Although Cu acquisition plays critical roles in fungal survival in the host, recent work has revealed that Cu detoxification is extremely important. Here, we review fungal responses to altered metal conditions presented by the host, contrast the roles of Fe and Cu during infection, and outline the critical roles of fungal metal homeostasis machinery at the host–pathogen axis.

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