Transposable element mobility and chromosomal rearrangement in the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus during human infection (2007–2010)
Pathogenic fungi present in the environment have emerged as an increasingly common threat to human health. Cryptococcus neoformans and the closely related species Cryptococcus gattii are the leading causes of life-threatening fungal meningitis, and Australia is one of the few countries where both species are prevalent. Although C. neoformans is an increasingly common cause of infection in immunocompromised patients such as those suffering from AIDS, approximately one in four infected individuals has no apparent immune system defect. For patients with AIDS, in the absence of antiretroviral therapy cryptococcal infection is incurable and requires lifelong treatment with antifungal medication to keep the infection in check. During infection, Cryptococcus is under tremendous stress enforced not only by the immune system and the presence of antifungals, but also by the high temperature, nutrient limiting environment encountered in the host. The proposed research will reveal how Cryptococcus evolves in this environment to enable persistence of infection despite medical intervention. I propose that naturally occurring mobile genetic elements present in the Cryptococcus genome cause chromosomal rearrangements during long term infection to produce gene deletions and duplications that facilitate survival. By characterising these changes and the genes associated with them, the research will identify novel genes involved in pathogenesis and will increase our understanding of the infection process. The expected outcome of this project is a detailed understanding of the roles mobile element movement and chromosomal rearrangement play in Cryptococcus during infection, and how these affect genes that contribute to the pathogenic process. The fundamental knowledge gained from this study will facilitate studies designed to combat infections in the clinical setting, provide new drug targets and help foster the development of more effective therapies.