New Drug Target Emerges for Dangerous Fungal Pathogen

Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen usually affecting immunocompromised patients, particularly AIDS and organ transplant patients, and is one that can be lethal. Current treatments against cryptococcosis are often not effective.

Mansa Munshi

Mansa Munshi, a PhD student in the genetics program within the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, in the laboratory with slides of C. neoformans, including ones without the Cer1 gene that are disabled.

Now a team of researchers, led by Stony Brook University scientists Mansa Munshi and Maurizio Del Poeta in the School of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, have discovered a novel gene that helps understand the mechanism of survival of this pathogen in various host conditions. Their finding, published in Cell Reports, may help pave the way for more effective and innovative treatments against cryptococcosis.

When C. neoformans survives in a host, disease results. In the paper, the team details how they uncovered that ceramides (a class of lipid molecules) play a role in the pathogenicity of C. neoformans. They identified a new gene within this process, called Cer1, which synthesizes ceremides. By targeting Cer1, pathogenicity in the host is altered.

Munshi and colleagues delete Cer1 from the pathogen, and a mutant form of C. neoformans is created that is completely disabled and unable to cause disease. These results have led the team to theorize that Cer1 may be a new drug target in the search for better treatments of cryptococcosis.

The research was supported in part by the National institutes of Health.

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