Larval Zebrafish Model Providing Unprecedented Views of C. albicans and Innate Immune System Interactions

A larval zebrafish model developed by University of Maine biomedical scientists is providing unprecedented, real-time views of the little-understood interactions between immune cells and fungal pathogens in blood vessels.

Their in vivo model that enables imaging of the immune system in action has the potential to be used for screening new drug therapies. It already led the UMaine researchers to discover evidence of an enzyme that regulates the growth of one of the most common yet lethal fungal pathogens to humans.

The researchers studied Candida albicans, a yeast that makes its home in the human body, where a healthy innate immune system keeps it in check. But in people with compromised immune systems, the fungal pathogen causes life-threatening infections. It is the fourth leading cause of infection in patients hospitalized in the United States.

To better understand the molecular nature of the interactions between Candida and innate immune cells, the researchers developed a novel candidemia infection model in zebrafish larvae. Larval zebrafish are transparent, facilitating noninvasive visualization of the interactions of pathogens with the innate immune system.

With the zebrafish model, the scientists showed that immune NADPH oxidase limits the proliferation and filamentous growth of C. albicans.

The UMaine researchers — graduate student Kimberly Brothers, undergraduate Zachary Newman, and microbiology professor Robert Wheeler — published their findings in the journal Eukaryotic Cell, where their discovery was featured in the journal’s Highlights section. It also was spotlighted in the American Society for Microbiology’s Microbe magazine.

Contact: Robert Wheeler, (207) 581-2890