Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


An ounce of prevention: Research advances on 'scourge' of transplant wards


The fungus Cryptococcus causes meningitis, a brain disease that kills about 1 million people each year -- mainly those with impaired immune systems due to AIDS, cancer treatment or an organ transplant. It's difficult to treat because fungi are genetically quite similar to humans, so compounds that affect fungi tend to have toxic side effects for patients.

Now, in one of the most detailed studies of how a dormant fungal spore transforms itself into a disease-causing yeast, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified 18 proteins that play a role in spore formation and germination. The findings raises the possibility of preventing the disease by blocking the spores' germination.

This is a spore of the deadly human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus (green) germinates into a yeast (yellow). Germination takes about 16 hours. Afterwards, the new yeast begins to reproduce by forming a bud (orange).

Credit: Christina Hull, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Spores are tough, resilient capsules that are made via sexual reproduction on trees and in soil that can remain dormant for years. Cryptococcus spores are apparently harmless until they are dispersed by wind or water and find a suitable environment where they can transform themselves into a yeast cell.

"When you inhale a spore, if it can't grow, it can't cause disease," says study leader Christina Hull, an associate professor of biomolecular chemistry. "Spores are dormant; they hang out until they find a place to grow into yeast, and the human lung is a good place. From there, the yeast can travel to the brain."

Once symptoms of cryptococcal meningitis appear, "the patient has billions of Cryptococcus yeasts growing in the brain," Hull says. "If you could prevent spores from activating, that might be a preventive therapy for immunocompromised patients so even if they inhale a spore, it cannot grow. That could be huge."

As reported today in PLOS Genetics, Hull, graduate student Mingwei Huang and UW-Madison colleagues Joshua Coon, David Beebe and Alex Hebert implicated 18 proteins and the genes that make them in Cryptococcus spore biology.

The study provides a rare look at a common process that is essential for disease transmission. Until now, Hull says, "it's been very difficult to isolate Cryptococcus spores from other cell types, so people have not spent much time looking at the issue of germination."

The transformation from spore to yeast "requires a change from one cell type to another, so many things must happen," Hull says. "Spores have a thick, protective coat that they must break down. What molecules allow that to happen? Now we can start to parse out exactly what it takes for a spore to turn into yeast."

The researchers deleted the genes for the 18 proteins in question and studied the resulting mutants. Hull was surprised to discover that most of the genes are involved in the process that forms a spore in the first place.

As the mutant spores grew, one gene that is necessary specifically for germination attracted additional attention. Already, Hull and colleagues are screening candidate drugs -- or, ideally, drugs that are already on the market -- at the Small Molecule Screening Facility on campus, looking for something that interferes with germination.

Hull is funded by The Hartwell Foundation of Memphis, Tennessee, to find treatments for fungal diseases, including some forms of childhood asthma. She says the results reported today may also apply to the kind of asthma caused by mold -- a common term for some fungi. "Increasingly, we are seeing that allergic asthma can be caused by fungi," Hull says. "If we can understand how fungal spores germinate, we could make some advances in treating -- perhaps even preventing -- some types of childhood asthma."

Scientific progress takes time, Hull says, but technical improvements developed by Coon, an expert in high-precision mass spectrometry, and Beebe, who invents microscale fluid flow devices, are allowing experiments once considered impossible. "I've been working on the basic biology of Cryptococcus since 2000," she says. "By marrying basic research discoveries from my laboratory with technological advances of my collaborators, we now have an exciting opportunity to identify and develop antifungal compounds that inhibit spore germination."

It's the old story about an ounce of prevention, Hull says. "If a spore enters the lung, it's not going to cause disease unless it can grow. If we develop drugs to stop fungi from making the transition from dormant spore to growing yeast, we can prevent disease in vulnerable patients and ultimately save lives."


CONTACT: Christina Hull,, (608) 265-5441 (prefers email for first contact)


David Tenenbaum, (608) 265-8549,

Christina Hull | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Cryptococcus childhood asthma drugs fungi genes germination lung spores transplant

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht New potential cancer treatment using microwaves to target deep tumors
12.10.2016 | University of Texas at Arlington

nachricht Breakthrough in Mapping Nicotine Addiction Could Help Researchers Improve Treatment
04.10.2016 | UT Southwestern Medical Center

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>