Discovery of a «white-gray-opaque» tristable phenotypic switching system in candida albicans: roles of non-genetic diversity in host adaptation.

Related Articles

Discovery of a "white-gray-opaque" tristable phenotypic switching system in candida albicans: roles of non-genetic diversity in host adaptation.

PLoS Biol. 2014 Apr;12(4):e1001830

Authors: Tao L, Du H, Guan G, Dai Y, Nobile CJ, Liang W, Cao C, Zhang Q, Zhong J, Huang G

Abstract
Non-genetic phenotypic variations play a critical role in the adaption to environmental changes in microbial organisms. Candida albicans, a major human fungal pathogen, can switch between several morphological phenotypes. This ability is critical for its commensal lifestyle and for its ability to cause infections. Here, we report the discovery of a novel morphological form in C. albicans, referred to as the "gray" phenotype, which forms a tristable phenotypic switching system with the previously reported white and opaque phenotypes. White, gray, and opaque cell types differ in a number of aspects including cellular and colony appearances, mating competency, secreted aspartyl proteinase (Sap) activities, and virulence. Of the three cell types, gray cells exhibit the highest Sap activity and the highest ability to cause cutaneous infections. The three phenotypes form a tristable phenotypic switching system, which is independent of the regulation of the mating type locus (MTL). Gray cells mate over 1,000 times more efficiently than do white cells, but less efficiently than do opaque cells. We further demonstrate that the master regulator of white-opaque switching, Wor1, is essential for opaque cell formation, but is not required for white-gray transitions. The Efg1 regulator is required for maintenance of the white phenotype, but is not required for gray-opaque transitions. Interestingly, the wor1/wor1 efg1/efg1 double mutant is locked in the gray phenotype, suggesting that Wor1 and Efg1 could function coordinately and play a central role in the regulation of gray cell formation. Global transcriptional analysis indicates that white, gray, and opaque cells exhibit distinct gene expression profiles, which partly explain their differences in causing infections, adaptation ability to diverse host niches, metabolic profiles, and stress responses. Therefore, the white-gray-opaque tristable phenotypic switching system in C. albicans may play a significant role in a wide range of biological aspects in this common commensal and pathogenic fungus.

PMID: 24691005 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]