Rapid proliferation due to better metabolic adaptation results in full virulence of a filament-deficient Candida albicans strain.
The ability of the fungal pathogen Candida albicans to undergo a yeast-to-hypha transition is believed to be a key virulence factor, as filaments mediate tissue damage. Here, we show that virulence is not necessarily reduced in filament-deficient strains, and the results depend on the infection model used. We generate a filament-deficient strain by deletion or repression of EED1 (known to be required for maintenance of hyphal growth). Consistent with previous studies, the strain is attenuated in damaging epithelial cells and macrophages in vitro and in a mouse model of intraperitoneal infection. However, in a mouse model of systemic infection, the strain is as virulent as the wild type when mice are challenged with intermediate infectious doses, and even more virulent when using low infectious doses. Retained virulence is associated with rapid yeast proliferation, likely the result of metabolic adaptation and improved fitness, leading to high organ fungal loads. Analyses of cytokine responses in vitro and in vivo, as well as systemic infections in immunosuppressed mice, suggest that differences in immunopathology contribute to some extent to retained virulence of the filament-deficient mutant. Our findings challenge the long-standing hypothesis that hyphae are essential for pathogenesis of systemic candidiasis by C. albicans.