The encapsulated fungus Cryptococcus neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis, with the highest rate of disease in patients with AIDS or immunosuppression. This microbe enters the human body via inhalation of infectious particles. C. neoformans capsular polysaccharide, in which the major component is glucuronoxylomannan (GXM), extensively accumulates in tissues and compromises host immune responses. C. neoformans travels from the lungs to the bloodstream and crosses to the brain via transcytosis, paracytosis, or inside of phagocytes using a “Trojan horse” mechanism. The fungus causes life-threatening meningoencephalitis with high mortality rates. Hence, we investigated the impact of intranasal exogenous GXM administration on C. neoformans infection in C57BL/6 mice. GXM enhances cryptococcal pulmonary infection and facilitates fungal systemic dissemination and brain invasion. Pre-challenge of GXM results in detection of the polysaccharide in lungs, serum, and surprisingly brain, the latter likely reached through the nasal cavity. GXM significantly alters endothelial cell tight junction protein expression in vivo, suggesting significant implications for the C. neoformans mechanisms of brain invasion. Using a microtiter transwell system, we showed that GXM disrupts the trans-endothelial electrical resistance, weakening human brain endothelial cell monolayers co-cultured with pericytes, supportive cells of blood vessels/capillaries found in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) to promote C. neoformans BBB penetration. Our findings should be considered in the development of therapeutics to combat the devastating complications of cryptococcosis that results in an estimated ~200,000 deaths worldwide each year.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Biology