Candida albicans Ethanol Stimulates Pseudomonas aeruginosa WspR-Controlled Biofilm Formation as Part of a Cyclic Relationship Involving Phenazines

Chinweike, Okegbe; Dietrich, Lars

In chronic infections, pathogens are often in the presence of other microbial species. For example, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common and detrimental lung pathogen in individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF) and co-infections with Candida albicans are common. Here, we show that P. aeruginosa biofilm formation and phenazine production were strongly influenced by ethanol produced by the fungus C. albicans. Ethanol stimulated phenotypes that are indicative of increased levels of cyclic-di-GMP (c-di-GMP), and levels of c-di-GMP were 2-fold higher in the presence of ethanol. Through a genetic screen, we found that the diguanylate cyclase WspR was required for ethanol stimulation of c-di-GMP. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that ethanol stimulates WspR signaling through its cognate sensor WspA, and promotes WspR-dependent activation of Pel exopolysaccharide production, which contributes to biofilm maturation. We also found that ethanol stimulation of WspR promoted P. aeruginosa colonization of CF airway epithelial cells. P. aeruginosa production of phenazines occurs both in the CF lung and in culture, and phenazines enhance ethanol production by C. albicans. Using a C. albicans adh1/adh1 mutant with decreased ethanol production, we found that fungal ethanol strongly altered the spectrum of P. aeruginosa phenazines in favor of those that are most effective against fungi. Thus, a feedback cycle comprised of ethanol and phenazines drives this polymicrobial interaction, and these relationships may provide insight into why co-infection with both P. aeruginosa and C. albicans has been associated with worse outcomes in cystic fibrosis.

Author Summary : In many human infections, several species of microbes are often present. This is typically the case with the disease cystic fibrosis, characterized by thick mucus in the lungs that is colonized by bacteria and fungi. Here, we show evidence that interactions between the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the fungus Candida albicans result in attributes of infection that are worse for the human host. We found that ethanol, such as that produced by C. albicans, causes increased levels of a signaling molecule in P. aeruginosa that promotes biofilm formation. Biofilm formation by P. aeruginosa is associated with infections that are more difficult to treat. Ethanol stimulated P. aeruginosa colonization of plastic surfaces and airway cells, and we identified components of this mechanism. Fungally-produced ethanol also changes the spectrum of phenazine toxins produced by P. aeruginosa, and phenazines are associated with worse lung function in people with cystic fibrosis. In light of the fact that phenazines interact with C. albicans to promote ethanol production, we propose a positive feedback loop between C. albicans and P. aeruginosa that contributes to worse disease. Our findings could have implications for the study and treatment of multi-species infections.


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Biological Sciences
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March 31, 2015