Nanobody-mediated neutralization of candidalysin prevents epithelial damage and inflammatory responses that drive vulvovaginal candidiasis pathogenesis.
*equal contribution #corresponding author
Candida albicans can cause mucosal infections in humans. This includes oropharyngeal candidiasis, which is commonly observed in human immunodeficiency virus infected patients, and vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), which is the most frequent manifestation of candidiasis. Epithelial cell invasion by C. albicans hyphae is accompanied by the secretion of candidalysin, a peptide toxin that causes epithelial cell cytotoxicity. During vaginal infections, candidalysin-driven tissue damage triggers epithelial signaling pathways, leading to hyperinflammatory responses and immunopathology, a hallmark of VVC. Therefore, we proposed blocking candidalysin activity using nanobodies to reduce epithelial damage and inflammation as a therapeutic strategy for VVC. Anti-candidalysin nanobodies were confirmed to localize around epithelial-invading C. albicans hyphae, even within the invasion pocket where candidalysin is secreted. The nanobodies reduced candidalysin-induced damage to epithelial cells and downstream proinflammatory responses. Accordingly, the nanobodies also decreased neutrophil activation and recruitment. In silico mathematical modeling enabled the quantification of epithelial damage caused by candidalysin under various nanobody dosing strategies. Thus, nanobody-mediated neutralization of candidalysin offers a novel therapeutic approach to block immunopathogenic events during VVC and alleviate symptoms.
Worldwide, vaginal infections caused by Candida albicans (VVC) annually affect millions of women, with symptoms significantly impacting quality of life. Current treatments are based on anti-fungals and probiotics that target the fungus. However, in some cases, infections are recurrent, called recurrent VVC, which often fails to respond to treatment. Vaginal mucosal tissue damage caused by the C. albicans peptide toxin candidalysin is a key driver in the induction of hyperinflammatory responses that fail to clear the infection and contribute to immunopathology and disease severity. In this pre-clinical evaluation, we show that nanobody-mediated candidalysin neutralization reduces tissue damage and thereby limits inflammation. Implementation of candidalysin-neutralizing nanobodies may prove an attractive strategy to alleviate symptoms in complicated VVC cases.