Publications

Abstract (Expand)

Aspergillus fumigatus is a common airborne fungal pathogen of humans and a significant source of mortality in immunocompromised individuals. Here, we provide the most extensive cell wall proteome profiling to date of A. fumigatus resting conidia, the fungal morphotype pertinent to first contact with the host. Using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), we identified proteins within the conidial cell wall by hydrogen-fluoride (HF)-pyridine extraction and proteins exposed on the surface using a trypsin-shaving approach. One protein, designated conidial cell wall protein A (CcpA), was identified by both methods and was found to be nearly as abundant as hydrophobic rodlet layer-forming protein RodA. CcpA, an amphiphilic protein, like RodA, peaks in expression during sporulation on resting conidia. Despite high cell wall abundance, the cell surface structure of DeltaccpA resting conidia appeared normal. However, trypsin shaving of DeltaccpA conidia revealed novel surface-exposed proteins not detected on conidia of the wild-type strain. Interestingly, the presence of swollen DeltaccpA conidia led to higher activation of neutrophils and dendritic cells than was seen with wild-type conidia and caused significantly less damage to epithelial cells in vitro In addition, virulence was highly attenuated when cortisone-treated, immunosuppressed mice were infected with DeltaccpA conidia. CcpA-specific memory T cell responses were detectable in healthy human donors naturally exposed to A. fumigatus conidia, suggesting a role for CcpA as a structural protein impacting conidial immunogenicity rather than possessing a protein-intrinsic immunosuppressive effect. Together, these data suggest that CcpA serves as a conidial stealth protein by altering the conidial surface structure to minimize innate immune recognition.IMPORTANCE The mammalian immune system relies on recognition of pathogen surface antigens for targeting and clearance. In the absence of immune evasion strategies, pathogen clearance is rapid. In the case of Aspergillus fumigatus, the successful fungus must avoid phagocytosis in the lung to establish invasive infection. In healthy individuals, fungal spores are cleared by immune cells; however, in immunocompromised patients, clearance mechanisms are impaired. Here, using proteome analyses, we identified CcpA as an important fungal spore protein involved in pathogenesis. A. fumigatus lacking CcpA was more susceptible to immune recognition and prompt eradication and, consequently, exhibited drastically attenuated virulence. In infection studies, CcpA was required for virulence in infected immunocompromised mice, suggesting that it could be used as a possible immunotherapeutic or diagnostic target in the future. In summary, our report adds a protein to the list of those known to be critical to the complex fungal spore surface environment and, more importantly, identifies a protein important for conidial immunogenicity during infection.

Authors: V. Voltersen, M. G. Blango, S. Herrmann, F. Schmidt, Thorsten Heinekamp, M. Strassburger, Thomas Krüger, P. Bacher, Jasmin Lother, Esther Weiß, Kerstin Hünniger, H. Liu, P. Hortschansky, A. Scheffold, Jürgen Löffler, S. Krappmann, S. Nietzsche, Oliver Kurzai, Hermann Einsele, Olaf Kniemeyer, S. G. Filler, U. Reichard, Axel Brakhage

Date Published: No date defined

Journal: MBio

Abstract (Expand)

High-throughput RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is routinely applied to study diverse biological processes; however, when performed separately on interacting organisms, systemic noise intrinsic to RNA extraction, library preparation, and sequencing hampers the identification of cross-species interaction nodes. Here, we develop triple RNA-seq to simultaneously detect transcriptomes of monocyte-derived dendritic cells (moDCs) infected with the frequently co-occurring pulmonary pathogens Aspergillus fumigatus and human cytomegalovirus (CMV). Comparing expression patterns after co-infection with those after single infections, our data reveal synergistic effects and mutual interferences between host responses to the two pathogens. For example, CMV attenuates the fungus-mediated activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines through NF-kappaB (nuclear factor kappaB) and NFAT (nuclear factor of activated T cells) cascades, while A. fumigatus impairs viral clearance by counteracting viral nucleic acid-induced activation of type I interferon signaling. Together, the analytical power of triple RNA-seq proposes molecular hubs in the differential moDC response to fungal/viral single infection or co-infection that contribute to our understanding of the etiology and, potentially, clearance of post-transplant infections.

Authors: Bastian Seelbinder, J. Wallstabe, Lothar Marischen, Esther Weiß, S. Wurster, L. Page, C. Loffler, L. Bussemer, A. L. Schmitt, Thomas Wolf, Jörg Linde, L. Cicin-Sain, J. Becker, U. Kalinke, J. Vogel, Gianni Panagiotou, Hermann Einsele, A. J. Westermann, Sascha Schäuble, Jürgen Löffler

Date Published: 17th Nov 2020

Journal: Cell Rep

Abstract (Expand)

Delayed natural killer (NK) cell reconstitution after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT) is associated with a higher risk of developing invasive aspergillosis. The interaction of NK cells with the human pathogen Aspergillus (A.) fumigatus is mediated by the fungal recognition receptor CD56, which is relocated to the fungal interface after contact. Blocking of CD56 signaling inhibits the fungal mediated chemokine secretion of MIP-1alpha, MIP-1beta, and RANTES and reduces cell activation, indicating a functional role of CD56 in fungal recognition. We collected peripheral blood from recipients of an allograft at defined time points after alloSCT (day 60, 90, 120, 180). NK cells were isolated, directly challenged with live A. fumigatus germ tubes, and cell function was analyzed and compared to healthy age and gender-matched individuals. After alloSCT, NK cells displayed a higher percentage of CD56(bright)CD16(dim) cells throughout the time of blood collection. However, CD56 binding and relocalization to the fungal contact side were decreased. We were able to correlate this deficiency to the administration of corticosteroid therapy that further negatively influenced the secretion of MIP-1alpha, MIP-1beta, and RANTES. As a consequence, the treatment of healthy NK cells ex vivo with corticosteroids abrogated chemokine secretion measured by multiplex immunoassay. Furthermore, we analyzed NK cells regarding their actin cytoskeleton by Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM) and flow cytometry and demonstrate an actin dysfunction of NK cells shown by reduced F-actin content after fungal co-cultivation early after alloSCT. This dysfunction remains until 180 days post-alloSCT, concluding that further actin-dependent cellular processes may be negatively influenced after alloSCT. To investigate the molecular pathomechansism, we compared CD56 receptor mobility on the plasma membrane of healthy and alloSCT primary NK cells by single-molecule tracking. The results were very robust and reproducible between tested conditions which point to a different molecular mechanism and emphasize the importance of proper CD56 mobility.

Authors: Esther Weiß, J. Schlegel, Ulrich Terpitz, Michael Weber, Jörg Linde, A. L. Schmitt, Kerstin Hünniger, Lothar Marischen, F. Gamon, J. Bauer, C. Loffler, Oliver Kurzai, C. O. Morton, M. Sauer, Hermann Einsele, Jürgen Löffler

Date Published: 5th Oct 2020

Journal: Front Immunol

Abstract (Expand)

BACKGROUND: Candida albicans and Candida glabrata are the 2 most prevalent Candida species causing bloodstream infections. Patterns of innate immune activation triggered by the 2 fungi differ considerably. METHODS: To analyze human natural killer (NK) cell activation by both species, we performed ex vivo whole-blood infection assays and confrontation assays with primary human NK cells. RESULTS: C. albicans was a stronger activator for isolated human NK cells than C. glabrata. In contrast, activation of blood NK cells, characterized by an upregulated surface exposure of early activation antigen CD69 and death receptor ligand TRAIL, as well as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) secretion, was more pronounced during C. glabrata infection. NK cell activation in blood is mediated by humoral mediators released by other immune cells and does not depend on direct activation by fungal cells. Cross-talk between Candida-confronted monocyte-derived dendritic cells (moDC) and NK cells resulted in the same NK activation phenotype as NK cells in human blood. Blocking experiments and cytokine substitution identified interleukin-12 as a critical mediator in regulation of primary NK cells by moDC. CONCLUSIONS: Activation of human NK cells in response to Candida in human blood mainly occurs indirectly by mediators released from monocytic cells.

Authors: A. Marolda, Kerstin Hünniger, S. Bottcher, W. Vivas, Jürgen Löffler, Marc Thilo Figge, Oliver Kurzai

Date Published: 11th Jun 2020

Journal: J Infect Dis

Abstract (Expand)

Invasive aspergillosis (IA) is a life-threatening complication among allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (alloSCT) recipients. Despite well known risk factors and different available assays, diagnosis of invasive aspergillosis remains challenging. 103 clinical variables from patients with hematological malignancies and subsequent alloSCT were collected. Associations between collected variables and patients with (n = 36) and without IA (n = 36) were investigated by applying univariate and multivariable logistic regression. The predictive power of the final model was tested in an independent patient cohort (23 IA cases and 25 control patients). Findings were investigated further by in vitro studies, which analysed the effect of etanercept on A. fumigatus-stimulated macrophages at the gene expression and cytokine secretion. Additionally, the release of C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 10 (CXCL10) in patient sera was studied. Low monocyte concentration (p = 4.8 x 10(-06)), severe GvHD of the gut (grade 2-4) (p = 1.08 x 10(-02)) and etanercept treatment of GvHD (p = 3.5 x 10(-03)) were significantly associated with IA. Our studies showed that etanercept lowers CXCL10 concentrations in vitro and ex vivo and down-regulates genes involved in immune responses and TNF-alpha signaling. Our study offers clinicians new information regarding risk factors for IA including low monocyte counts and administration of etanercept. After necessary validation, such information may be used for decision making regarding antifungal prophylaxis or closely monitoring patients at risk.

Authors: T. Zoran, Michael Weber, J. Springer, P. L. White, J. Bauer, A. Schober, C. Loffler, B. Seelbinder, Kerstin Hünniger, Oliver Kurzai, A. Scherag, Sascha Schäuble, C. O. Morton, Hermann Einsele, Jörg Linde, Jürgen Löffler

Date Published: 21st Nov 2019

Journal: Sci Rep

Abstract (Expand)

Dendritic cells (DCs) are antigen presenting cells which serve as a passage between the innate and the acquired immunity. Aspergillosis is a major lethal condition in immunocompromised patients caused by the adaptable saprophytic fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. The healthy human immune system is capable to ward off A. fumigatus infections however immune-deficient patients are highly vulnerable to invasive aspergillosis. A. fumigatus can persist during infection due to its ability to survive the immune response of human DCs. Therefore, the study of the metabolism specific to the context of infection may allow us to gain insight into the adaptation strategies of both the pathogen and the immune cells. We established a metabolic model of A. fumigatus central metabolism during infection of DCs and calculated the metabolic pathway (elementary modes; EMs). Transcriptome data were used to identify pathways activated when A. fumigatus is challenged with DCs. In particular, amino acid metabolic pathways, alternative carbon metabolic pathways and stress regulating enzymes were found to be active. Metabolic flux modeling identified further active enzymes such as alcohol dehydrogenase, inositol oxygenase and GTP cyclohydrolase participating in different stress responses in A. fumigatus. These were further validated by qRT-PCR from RNA extracted under these different conditions. For DCs, we outlined the activation of metabolic pathways in response to the confrontation with A. fumigatus. We found the fatty acid metabolism plays a crucial role, along with other metabolic changes. The gene expression data and their analysis illuminate additional regulatory pathways activated in the DCs apart from interleukin regulation. In particular, Toll-like receptor signaling, NOD-like receptor signaling and RIG-I-like receptor signaling were active pathways. Moreover, we identified subnetworks and several novel key regulators such as UBC, EGFR, and CUL3 of DCs to be activated in response to A. fumigatus. In conclusion, we analyze the metabolic and regulatory responses of A. fumigatus and DCs when confronted with each other.

Authors: Mugdha Srivastava, E. Bencurova, Shishir K Gupta, Esther Weiß, Jürgen Löffler, Thomas Dandekar

Date Published: 14th Jun 2019

Journal: Front Cell Infect Microbiol

Abstract (Expand)

Aspergillus fumigatus is a common airborne fungal pathogen of humans and a significant source of mortality in immunocompromised individuals. Here, we provide the most extensive cell wall proteome profiling to date of A. fumigatus resting conidia, the fungal morphotype pertinent to first contact with the host. Using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), we identified proteins within the conidial cell wall by hydrogen-fluoride (HF)-pyridine extraction and proteins exposed on the surface using a trypsin-shaving approach. One protein, designated conidial cell wall protein A (CcpA), was identified by both methods and was found to be nearly as abundant as hydrophobic rodlet layer-forming protein RodA. CcpA, an amphiphilic protein, like RodA, peaks in expression during sporulation on resting conidia. Despite high cell wall abundance, the cell surface structure of DeltaccpA resting conidia appeared normal. However, trypsin shaving of DeltaccpA conidia revealed novel surface-exposed proteins not detected on conidia of the wild-type strain. Interestingly, the presence of swollen DeltaccpA conidia led to higher activation of neutrophils and dendritic cells than was seen with wild-type conidia and caused significantly less damage to epithelial cells in vitro In addition, virulence was highly attenuated when cortisone-treated, immunosuppressed mice were infected with DeltaccpA conidia. CcpA-specific memory T cell responses were detectable in healthy human donors naturally exposed to A. fumigatus conidia, suggesting a role for CcpA as a structural protein impacting conidial immunogenicity rather than possessing a protein-intrinsic immunosuppressive effect. Together, these data suggest that CcpA serves as a conidial stealth protein by altering the conidial surface structure to minimize innate immune recognition.IMPORTANCE The mammalian immune system relies on recognition of pathogen surface antigens for targeting and clearance. In the absence of immune evasion strategies, pathogen clearance is rapid. In the case of Aspergillus fumigatus, the successful fungus must avoid phagocytosis in the lung to establish invasive infection. In healthy individuals, fungal spores are cleared by immune cells; however, in immunocompromised patients, clearance mechanisms are impaired. Here, using proteome analyses, we identified CcpA as an important fungal spore protein involved in pathogenesis. A. fumigatus lacking CcpA was more susceptible to immune recognition and prompt eradication and, consequently, exhibited drastically attenuated virulence. In infection studies, CcpA was required for virulence in infected immunocompromised mice, suggesting that it could be used as a possible immunotherapeutic or diagnostic target in the future. In summary, our report adds a protein to the list of those known to be critical to the complex fungal spore surface environment and, more importantly, identifies a protein important for conidial immunogenicity during infection.

Authors: V. Voltersen, M. G. Blango, S. Herrmann, F. Schmidt, Thorsten Heinekamp, M. Strassburger, Thomas Krüger, P. Bacher, Jasmin Lother, Esther Weiß, Kerstin Hünniger, H. Liu, P. Hortschansky, A. Scheffold, Jürgen Löffler, S. Krappmann, S. Nietzsche, Oliver Kurzai, Hermann Einsele, Olaf Kniemeyer, S. G. Filler, U. Reichard, Axel Brakhage

Date Published: 2nd Oct 2018

Journal: mBio

Abstract (Expand)

Within the last two decades, the incidence of invasive fungal infections has been significantly increased. They are characterized by high mortality rates and are often caused by Candida albicans and Aspergillus fumigatus. The increasing number of infections underlines the necessity for additional anti-fungal therapies, which require extended knowledge of gene regulations during fungal infection. MicroRNAs are regulators of important cellular processes, including the immune response. By analyzing their regulation and impact on target genes, novel therapeutic and diagnostic approaches may be developed. Here, we examine the role of microRNAs in human dendritic cells during fungal infection. Dendritic cells represent the bridge between the innate and the adaptive immune systems. Therefore, analysis of gene regulation of dendritic cells is of particular significance. By applying next-generation sequencing of small RNAs, we quantify microRNA expression in monocyte-derived dendritic cells after 6 and 12 h of infection with C. albicans and A. fumigatus as well as treatment with lipopolysaccharides (LPS). We identified 26 microRNAs that are differentially regulated after infection by the fungi or LPS. Three and five of them are specific for fungal infections after 6 and 12 h, respectively. We further validated interactions of miR-132-5p and miR-212-5p with immunological relevant target genes, such as FKBP1B, KLF4, and SPN, on both RNA and protein level. Our results indicate that these microRNAs fine-tune the expression of immune-related target genes during fungal infection. Beyond that, we identified previously undiscovered microRNAs. We validated three novel microRNAs via qRT-PCR. A comparison with known microRNAs revealed possible relations with the miR-378 family and miR-1260a/b for two of them, while the third one features a unique sequence with no resemblance to known microRNAs. In summary, this study analyzes the effect of known microRNAs in dendritic cells during fungal infections and proposes novel microRNAs that could be experimentally verified.

Authors: Andreas Dix, K. Czakai, I. Leonhardt, K. Schaferhoff, M. Bonin, Reinhard Guthke, Hermann Einsele, Oliver Kurzai, Jürgen Löffler, Jörg Linde

Date Published: 11th Mar 2017

Journal: Front Microbiol

Abstract (Expand)

Invasive fungal infections are associated with high mortality rates and are mostly caused by the opportunistic fungi Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans. Immune responses against these fungi are still not fully understood. Dendritic cells (DCs) are crucial players in initiating innate and adaptive immune responses against fungal infections. The immunomodulatory effects of fungi were compared to the bacterial stimulus LPS to determine key players in the immune response to fungal infections. A genome wide study of the gene regulation of human monocyte-derived dendritic cells (DCs) confronted with A. fumigatus, C. albicans or LPS was performed and Kruppel-like factor 4 (KLF4) was identified as the only transcription factor that was down-regulated in DCs by both fungi but induced by stimulation with LPS. Downstream analysis demonstrated the influence of KLF4 on the interleukine-6 expression in human DCs. Furthermore, KLF4 regulation was shown to be dependent on pattern recognition receptor ligation. Therefore KLF4 was identified as a controlling element in the IL-6 immune response with a unique expression pattern comparing fungal and LPS stimulation.

Authors: K. Czakai, I. Leonhardt, Andreas Dix, M. Bonin, Jörg Linde, Hermann Einsele, Oliver Kurzai, Jürgen Löffler

Date Published: 28th Jun 2016

Journal: Sci Rep

Abstract (Expand)

As part of the innate immune system, natural killer (NK) cells are directly involved in the response to fungal infections. Perforin has been identified as the major effector molecule acting against many fungal pathogens. While several studies have shown that perforin mediated fungicidal effects can contribute to fungal clearance, neither the activation of NK cells by fungal pathogens nor the effects of perforin on fungal cells are well-understood. In a dual approach, we have studied the global gene expression pattern of primary and cytokine activated NK cells after co-incubation with Candida albicans and the transcriptomic adaptation of C. albicans to perforin exposure. NK cells responded to the fungal pathogen with an up-regulation of genes involved in immune signaling and release of cytokines. Furthermore, we observed a pronounced increase of genes involved in glycolysis and glycolysis inhibitor 2-deoxy-D-glucose impaired C. albicans induced NK cell activation. This strongly indicates that metabolic adaptation is a major part of the NK cell response to C. albicans infections. In the fungal pathogen, perforin induced a strong up-regulation of several fungal genes involved in the zinc depletion response, such as PRA1 and ZRT1. These data suggest that fungal zinc homeostasis is linked to the reaction to perforin secreted by NK cells. However, deletion mutants in PRA1 and ZRT1 did not show altered susceptibility to perforin.

Authors: Dragana Slavkovic Lukic, J. Voigt, M. Bouzani, Jürgen Löffler, Daniela Albrecht-Eckardt, Michael Weber, Stefanie Allert, R. Martin, Oliver Kurzai, Kerstin Hünniger

Date Published: 19th May 2016

Journal: Front Microbiol

Abstract (Expand)

Invasive aspergillosis (IA) is a devastating opportunistic infection and its treatment constitutes a considerable burden for the health care system. Immunocompromised patients are at an increased risk for IA, which is mainly caused by the species Aspergillus fumigatus. An early and reliable diagnosis is required to initiate the appropriate antifungal therapy. However, diagnostic sensitivity and accuracy still needs to be improved, which can be achieved at least partly by the definition of new biomarkers. Besides the direct detection of the pathogen by the current diagnostic methods, the analysis of the host response is a promising strategy toward this aim. Following this approach, we sought to identify new biomarkers for IA. For this purpose, we analyzed gene expression profiles of hematological patients and compared profiles of patients suffering from IA with non-IA patients. Based on microarray data, we applied a comprehensive feature selection using a random forest classifier. We identified the transcript coding for the S100 calcium-binding protein B (S100B) as a potential new biomarker for the diagnosis of IA. Considering the expression of this gene, we were able to classify samples from patients with IA with 82.3% sensitivity and 74.6% specificity. Moreover, we validated the expression of S100B in a real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay and we also found a down-regulation of S100B in A. fumigatus stimulated DCs. An influence on the IL1B and CXCL1 downstream levels was demonstrated by this S100B knockdown. In conclusion, this study covers an effective feature selection revealing a key regulator of the human immune response during IA. S100B may represent an additional diagnostic marker that in combination with the established techniques may improve the accuracy of IA diagnosis.

Authors: Andreas Dix, K. Czakai, J. Springer, M. Fliesser, M. Bonin, Reinhard Guthke, A. L. Schmitt, Hermann Einsele, Jörg Linde, Jürgen Löffler

Date Published: 21st Mar 2016

Journal: Front Microbiol

Abstract (Expand)

Aspergillus fumigatus is the species that most commonly causes the opportunistic infection invasive aspergillosis (IA) in patients being treated for hematological malignancies. Little is known about the A. fumigatus proteins that trigger the production of Aspergillus-specific IgG antibodies during the course of IA. To characterize the serological response to A. fumigatus protein antigens, mycelial proteins were separated by 2-D gel electrophoresis. The gels were immunoblotted with sera from patients with probable and proven IA and control patients without IA. We identified 49 different fungal proteins, which gave a positive IgG antibody signal. Most of these antigens play a role in primary metabolism and stress responses. Overall, our analysis identified 18 novel protein antigens from A. fumigatus. To determine whether these antigens can be used as diagnostic or prognostic markers or exhibit a protective activity, we employed supervised machine learning with decision trees. We identified two candidates for further analysis, the protein antigens CpcB and Shm2. Heterologously produced Shm2 induced a strongly proinflammatory response in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells after in vitro stimulation. In contrast, CpcB did not activate the immune response of PBMCs. These findings could serve as the basis for the development of an immunotherapy of IA.

Authors: J. Teutschbein, S. Simon, J. Lother, J. Springer, P. Hortschansky, C. O. Morton, Jürgen Löffler, Hermann Einsele, E. Conneally, T. R. Rogers, Reinhard Guthke, Axel Brakhage, Olaf Kniemeyer

Date Published: 15th Mar 2016

Journal: J Proteome Res

Abstract (Expand)

BACKGROUND: Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with potent cytotoxic activity. Whereas activity of NK cells has been demonstrated against the fungal pathogens Aspergillus fumigatus and Cryptococcus neoformans, little was known about their interaction with Candida albicans. METHODS: Primary human NK cells were isolated from buffy coats, primed with a cytokine cocktail and used for confrontation assays with C. albicans. Interaction was monitored and quantified using live cell imaging, confocal microscopy, flow cytometry, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. RESULTS: Human NK cells actively recognized C. albicans, resulting in degranulation and secretion of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, interferon gamma, and tumor necrosis factor alpha . Uniquely, activation of NK cells was triggered by actin-dependent phagocytosis. Antifungal activity of NK cells against C. albicans could be detected and mainly attributed to secreted perforin. However, NK cells were unable to inhibit filamentation of C. albicans. Human polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) counteracted the proinflammatory reaction of NK cells by preventing direct contact between NK cells and the fungal pathogen. Activation of PMNs was enhanced in the presence of NK cells, resulting in increased fungicidal activity. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show a unique pattern of NK cell interaction with C. albicans, which involves direct proinflammatory activation and modulation of PMN activity. For the first time, phagocytosis of a pathogen is shown to contribute to NK cell activation.

Authors: J. Voigt, Kerstin Hünniger, M. Bouzani, Ilse Jacobsen, D. Barz, Bernhard Hube, Jürgen Löffler, Oliver Kurzai

Date Published: 25th Oct 2013

Journal: J Infect Dis

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