Similar evolutionary trajectories in an environmental Cryptococcus neoformans isolate after human and murine infection

Poppy Sephton-Clark, Scott A. McConnell, Nina Grossman, Rosanna P. Baker, Quigly Dragotakes, Yunfan Fan, Man Shun Fu, Gracen Gerbig, Seth Greengo, J. Marie Hardwick, Madhura Kulkarni, Stuart M. Levitz, Joshua D. Nosanchuk, Shmuel Shoham, Daniel F.Q. Smith, Piotr Stempinski, Winston Timp, Maggie P. Wear, Christina A. Cuomo, Arturo Casadevall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A pet cockatoo was the suspected source of Cryptococcus neoformans recovered from an immunocompromised patient with cryptococcosis based on molecular analyses available in 2000. Here, we report whole genome sequence analysis of the clinical and cockatoo strains. Both are closely related MATα strains belonging to the VNII lineage, confirming that the human infection likely originated from pet bird exposure. The two strains differ by 61 single nucleotide polymorphisms, including eight nonsynonymous changes involving seven genes. To ascertain whether changes in these genes are selected for during mammalian infection, we passaged the cockatoo strain in mice. Remarkably, isolates obtained from mouse tissue possess a frameshift mutation in one of the seven genes altered in the human sample (LQVO5_000317), a gene predicted to encode an SWI–SNF chromatin-remodeling complex protein. In addition, both cockatoo and patient strains as well as mouse-passaged isolates obtained from brain tissue had a premature stop codon in a homologue of ZFC3 (LQVO5_004463), a predicted single-zinc finger containing protein, which is associated with larger capsules when deleted and reverted to a full-length protein in the mouse-passaged isolates obtained from lung tissue. The patient strain and mouse-passaged isolates show variability in virulence factors, with differences in capsule size, melanization, rates of nonlytic expulsion from macrophages, and amoeba predation resistance. Our results establish that environmental strains undergo genomic and phenotypic changes during mammalian passage, suggesting that animal virulence can be a mechanism for genetic change and that the genomes of clinical isolates may provide a readout of mutations acquired during infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2217111120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 2023


  • Cryptococcus
  • fungus
  • genomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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