The Endoplasmic Reticulum-Mitochondrion Tether ERMES Orchestrates Fungal Immune Evasion, Illuminating Inflammasome Responses to Hyphal Signals Academic Article uri icon


  • ABSTRACT The pathogenic yeast Candida albicans escapes macrophages by triggering NLRP3 inflammasome-dependent host cell death (pyroptosis). Pyroptosis is inflammatory and must be tightly regulated by host and microbe, but the mechanism is incompletely defined. We characterized the C. albicans endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-mitochondrion tether ERMES and show that the ERMES mmm1 mutant is severely crippled in killing macrophages despite hyphal formation and normal phagocytosis and survival. To understand dynamic inflammasome responses to Candida with high spatiotemporal resolution, we established live-cell imaging for parallel detection of inflammasome activation and pyroptosis at the single-cell level. This showed that the inflammasome response to mmm1 mutant hyphae is delayed by 10 h, after which an exacerbated activation occurs. The NLRP3 inhibitor MCC950 inhibited inflammasome activation and pyroptosis by C. albicans , including exacerbated inflammasome activation by the mmm1 mutant. At the cell biology level, inactivation of ERMES led to a rapid collapse of mitochondrial tubular morphology, slow growth and hyphal elongation at host temperature, and reduced exposed 1,3-β-glucan in hyphal populations. Our data suggest that inflammasome activation by C. albicans requires a signal threshold dependent on hyphal elongation and cell wall remodeling, which could fine-tune the response relative to the level of danger posed by C. albicans . The phenotypes of the ERMES mutant and the lack of conservation in animals suggest that ERMES is a promising antifungal drug target. Our data further indicate that NLRP3 inhibition by MCC950 could modulate C. albicans -induced inflammation. IMPORTANCE The yeast Candida albicans causes human infections that have mortality rates approaching 50%. The key to developing improved therapeutics is to understand the host-pathogen interface. A critical interaction is that with macrophages: intracellular Candida triggers the NLRP3/caspase-1 inflammasome for escape through lytic host cell death, but this also activates antifungal responses. To better understand how the inflammasome response to Candida is fine-tuned, we established live-cell imaging of inflammasome activation at single-cell resolution, coupled with analysis of the fungal ERMES complex, a mitochondrial regulator that lacks human homologs. We show that ERMES mediates Candida escape via inflammasome-dependent processes, and our data suggest that inflammasome activation is controlled by the level of hyphal growth and exposure of cell wall components as a proxy for severity of danger. Our study provides the most detailed dynamic analysis of inflammasome responses to a fungal pathogen so far and establishes promising pathogen- and host-derived therapeutic strategies.


  • Tucey, TM
  • Verma-Gaur, J
  • Nguyen, J
  • Hewitt, VL
  • Lo, TL
  • Shingu-Vazquez, M
  • Robertson, AAB
  • Hill, JR
  • Pettolino, FA
  • Beddoe, T
  • Cooper, MA
  • Naderer, T
  • Traven, A

publication date

  • 2016