Proteasome inhibition as a therapeutic target for the fungal pathogen C. Neoformans
Kronstad Lab
Kronstad Lab
Mélissa Caza, Daniel Assis Santos, Elizabeth Burden, Anna Brisland, Guanggan Hu, James W Kronstad

Publication: Proteasome inhibition as a therapeutic target for the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans

Abstract: The current therapeutic challenges for treating fungal diseases demand new approaches and new drugs. A promising strategy involves combination therapy with agents of distinct mechanisms of action to increase fungicidal activity and limit the impact of mutations leading to resistance. In this study, we evaluated the antifungal potential of bortezomib by examining the inhibition of proteasome activity, cell proliferation, and capsule production by Cryptococcus neoformans, the causative agent of fungal meningoencephalitis. Chemical genetic screens with collections of deletion mutants identified potential druggable targets for combination therapy with bortezomib. In vitro assays of combinations of bortezomib with flucytosine, chlorpromazine, bafilomycin A1, copper sulfate, or hydroxyurea revealed antifungal effects against C. neoformans. Furthermore, combination treatment with bortezomib and flucytosine in a murine inhalation model of cryptococcosis resulted in the improvement of neurological functions and reduced fungal replication and dissemination, leading to a delay in disease progression. This study therefore highlights the utility of chemical genetic screens to identify new therapeutic approaches as well as the antifungal potential of proteasome inhibition. IMPORTANCE Fungal diseases of humans are difficult to treat, and there is a clear need for additional antifungal drugs, better diagnostics, effective vaccines, and new approaches to deal with emerging drug resistance. Fungi are challenging to control because they share many common biochemical functions with their mammalian hosts and it is therefore difficult to identify fungal-specific targets for drug development. One approach is to employ existing antifungal drugs in combination with agents that target common cellular processes at levels that are (ideally) not toxic for the host. We pursued this approach in this study by examining the potential of the clinically approved proteasome inhibitor bortezomib to influence the proliferation and virulence of Cryptococcus neoformans. We found that the combination of bortezomib with the anti-cryptococcal drug flucytosine improved the survival of infected mice, thus demonstrating the potential of this strategy for antifungal therapy.


Keywords: HIV/AIDS; bortezomib; chemical genetic screen; fungal pathogenesis.