Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy 2017 02 2361(3) pii 10.1128/AAC.02108-16
Cryptococcus neoformans is an environmentally ubiquitous fungal pathogen that primarily causes disease in people with compromised immune systems, particularly those with advanced AIDS. There are estimated to be almost 1 million cases per year of cryptococcal meningitis in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus, leading to over 600,000 annual deaths, with a particular burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Amphotericin B (AMB) and fluconazole (FLC) are key components of cryptococcal meningitis treatment: AMB is used for induction, and FLC is for consolidation, maintenance and, for occasional individuals, prophylaxis. However, the results of standard antifungal susceptibility testing (AFST) for AMB and FLC do not correlate well with therapeutic outcomes and, consequently, no clinical breakpoints have been established. While a number of explanations for this absence of correlation have been proffered, one potential reason that has not been adequately explored is the possibility that the physiological differences between the in vivo infection environment and the in vitro AFST environment lead to disparate drug susceptibilities. These susceptibility-influencing factors include melanization, which does not occur during AFST, the size of the polysaccharide capsule, which is larger in infecting cells than in those grown under normal laboratory conditions, and the presence of large polyploid "titan cells," which rarely occur under laboratory conditions. Understanding whether and how C. neoformans differentially expresses mechanisms of resistance to AMB and FLC in the AFST environment compared to the in vivo environment could enhance our ability to interpret AFST results and possibly lead to the development of more applicable testing methods.