ACS Cent Sci. 2020 Oct 28;6(10):1698-1712. doi: 10.1021/acscentsci.0c00813. Epub 2020 Sep 9.
Echinocandins are the newest class of antifungal drugs in clinical use. These agents inhibit β-glucan synthase, which catalyzes the synthesis of β-glucan, an essential component of the fungal cell wall, and have a high clinical efficacy and low toxicity. Echinocandin resistance is largely due to mutations in the gene encoding β-glucan synthase, but the mode of action is not fully understood. We developed fluorescent probes based on caspofungin, the first clinically approved echinocandin, and studied their cellular biology in Candida species, the most common cause of human fungal infections worldwide. Fluorescently labeled caspofungin probes, like the unlabeled drug, were most effective against metabolically active cells. The probes rapidly accumulated in Candida vacuoles, as shown by colocalization with vacuolar proteins and vacuole-specific stains. The uptake of fluorescent caspofungin is facilitated by endocytosis: The labeled drug formed vesicles similar to fluorescently labeled endocytic vesicles, the vacuolar accumulation of fluorescent caspofungin was energy-dependent, and inhibitors of endocytosis reduced its uptake. In a panel comprised of isogenic Candida strains carrying different β-glucan synthase mutations as well as clinical isolates, resistance correlated with increased fluorescent drug uptake into vacuoles. Fluorescent drug uptake also associated with elevated levels of chitin, a sugar polymer that increases cell-wall rigidity. Monitoring the intracellular uptake of fluorescent caspofungin provides a rapid and simple assay that can enable the prediction of echinocandin resistance, which is useful for research applications as well as for selecting the appropriate drugs for treatments of invasive fungal infections.