Impact of mating type, serotype, and ploidy on the virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans

Xiaorong Lin, Kirsten Nielsen, Sweta Patel, Joseph Heitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Hybridization with polyploidization is a significant biological force driving evolution. The effect of combining two distinct genomes in one organism on the virulence potential of pathogenic fungi is not clear. Cryptococcus neoformans, the most common cause of fungal infection of the central nervous system, has a bipolar mating system with a and α mating types and occurs as A (haploid), D (haploid), and AD hybrid (mostly diploid) serotypes. Diploid AD hybrids are derived either from a-α mating or from unisexual mating between haploid cells. The precise contributions of increased ploidy, the effect of hybridization between serotypes A and D, and the combination of mating types to the virulence potential of AD hybrids have remained elusive. By using in vitro and in vivo characterization of laboratory-constructed isogenic diploids and AD hybrids with all possible mating type combinations in defined genetic backgrounds, we found that higher ploidy has a minor negative effect on virulence in a murine inhalation model of cryptococcosis. The presence of both mating types a and α in AD hybrids did not affect the virulence potential, irrespective of the serotype origin. Interestingly, AD hybrids with only one mating type behaved differently, with the virulence of αADα strains similar to that of other hybrids, while aADa hybrids displayed significantly lower virulence due to negative epistatic interactions between the Aa and Da alleles of the mating type locus. This study provides insights into the impact of ploidy, mating type, and serotype on virulence and the impact of hybridization on the fitness and virulence of a eukaryotic microbial pathogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2923-2938
Number of pages16
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008

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