From environmental adaptation to host survival: Attributes that mediate pathogenicity of Candida auris.
Candida species are a major cause of invasive fungal infections. While Candida albicans, C. glabrata, C. parapsilosis, and C. tropicalis are the most dominant species causing life-threatening candidiasis, C. auris recently emerged as a new species causing invasive infections with high rates of clinical treatment failures. To mimic initial phases of systemic Candida infections with dissemination via the bloodstream and to elucidate the pathogenic potential of C. auris, we used an ex vivo whole blood infection model. Similar to other clinically relevant Candida spp., C. auris is efficiently killed in human blood, but showed characteristic patterns of immune cell association, survival rates, and cytokine induction. Dual-species transcriptional profiling of C. auris-infected blood revealed a unique C. auris gene expression program during infection, while the host response proofed similar and conserved compared to other Candida species. C. auris-specific responses included adaptation and survival strategies, such as counteracting oxidative burst of immune cells, but also expression of potential virulence factors, (drug) transporters, and cell surface-associated genes. Despite comparable pathogenicity to other Candida species in our model, C. auris-specific transcriptional adaptations as well as its increased stress resistance and long-term environmental survival, likely contribute to the high risk of contamination and distribution in a nosocomial setting. Moreover, infections of neutrophils with pre-starved C. auris cells suggest that environmental preconditioning can have modulatory effects on the early host interaction. In summary, we present novel insights into C. auris pathogenicity, revealing adaptations to human blood and environmental niches distinctive from other Candida species.