Image_1_Transcriptome Study of an Exophiala dermatitidis PKS1 Mutant on an ex Vivo Skin Model: Is Melanin Important for Infection?.JPEG

The black yeast Exophiala dermatitidis is a polyextremophilic human pathogen, especially known for growing in man-made extreme environments. Reported diseases caused by this fungus range from benign cutaneous to systemic infections with 40% fatality rate. While the number of cases steadily increases in both immunocompromised and immunocompetent people, detailed knowledge about infection mechanisms, virulence factors and host response are scarce. To understand the impact of the putative virulence factor melanin on the infection, we generated a polyketide synthase (PKS1) mutant using CRISPR/Cas9 resulting in a melanin deficient strain. The mutant and the wild-type fungus were inoculated onto skin explants using an ex vivo skin organ culture model to simulate in vivo cutaneous infection. The difference between the mutant and wild-type transcriptional landscapes, as assessed by whole RNA-sequencing, were small and were observed in pathways related to the copper homeostasis, cell wall genes and proteases. Seven days after inoculation the wild-type fungus completely colonized the stratum corneum, invaded the skin and infected keratinocytes while the mutant had only partially covered the skin and showed no invasiveness. Our results suggest that melanin dramatically improves the invasiveness and virulence of E. dermatitidis during the first days of the skin infection.