Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say they have discovered a new way that the most prevalent disease-causing fungus can thwart immune system attacks.
The findings, published September 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer new clues about how Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections and the mouth infection thrush, is able to cause a deadly infection once it enters the bloodstream.
When the body is faced with an infection, cells give a burst of free radicals to kill the germs. C. albicans and other fungi use copper to fuel an enzyme designed to neutralize the free radical attack. But once the body senses the presence of the fungal infection, it flushes copper into the bloodstream to fight, leaving copper-starved fungus in the tissues in places like the kidney.
But instead of being thwarted by a lack of copper to feed its defense, the Johns Hopkins team has discovered that C. albicans has uniquely evolved to switch from using copper to counter the free radicals to using the metal manganese.
“What we have found here is a very clever adaptation to changes in copper during infection,” says study leader Dr. Valeria C. Culotta, a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Bloomberg School. “The more we learn about this pathogen’s ability to survive inside a human, the more points of vulnerability we may identify.”
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