Acidic/Alkaline Stress Mediates Responses to Azole Drugs and Oxidative Stress in Aspergillus fumigatus
Microbiol Spectr. 2022 Feb 23;10(1):e0199921. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.01999-21. Epub 2022 Feb 23.
A human host exploits stresses such as acidic/alkaline pH, antifungal drugs, and reactive oxygen species to kill microbial pathogens such as the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus. However, A. fumigatus is resistant to these stresses in vitro. Therefore, what accounts for the potent antifungal activity of the human host? In this observation, we show that simultaneous exposure to acidic pH and oxidative stresses is much more potent than the individual stresses themselves and that this combinatorial stress kills A. fumigatus synergistically in vitro. Interestingly, A. fumigatus is resistant to the combination of alkaline pH and oxidative stress. Quantitative real-time PCR analyses showed that acidic/alkaline pH stress can mediate oxidative stress responses in A. fumigatus by regulating the expression of catalase-encoding genes. We further show that A. fumigatus is sensitive to the combination of acidic/alkaline stress and azole drug stress. Transcriptome analysis revealed that the sensitivity of A. fumigatus to azole drugs under acidic/alkaline conditions may be related to changes in genetic stability, sphingolipid metabolism, lipid metabolism, and amino acid metabolism. Collectively, our findings suggest that combinatorial stress represents a powerful fungicidal mechanism employed by hosts against pathogens, which suggests novel approaches to potentiate antifungal therapy. IMPORTANCE The human host combats fungal infections via phagocytic cells that recognize and kill fungal pathogens. Immune cells combat Aspergillus fumigatus infections with a potent mixture of chemicals, including reactive oxygen species, acidic/alkaline stress, and antifungal drugs. However, A. fumigatus is relatively resistant to these stresses in vitro. In this observation, we show that it is the combination of acidic/alkaline pH and oxidative or azole stress that kills A. fumigatus so effectively, and we define the molecular mechanisms that underlie this potency. Our findings suggest that combinatorial stress is a powerful fungicidal mechanism employed by hosts, which suggests novel approaches to potentiate antifungal therapy. This study provides a platform for future studies that will address the combinatorial impacts of various environmental stresses on A. fumigatus and other pathogenic microbes.