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Geissel, Bernadette; Loiko, Veronika; Klugherz, Isabel; Zhu, Zhaojun; Wagener, Nikola; Kurzai, Oliver; Hondel, Cees A. M. J. J. van den; Wagener, Johannes (2018): Azole-induced cell wall carbohydrate patches kill Aspergillus fumigatus. In: Nature Communications, Vol. 9, 3098
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Abstract

Azole antifungals inhibit the fungal ergosterol biosynthesis pathway, resulting in either growth inhibition or killing of the pathogen, depending on the species. Here we report that azoles have an initial growth-inhibitory (fungistatic) activity against the pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus that can be separated from the succeeding fungicidal effects. At a later stage, the cell wall salvage system is induced. This correlates with successive cell integrity loss and death of hyphal compartments. Time-lapse fluorescence microscopy reveals excessive synthesis of cell wall carbohydrates at defined spots along the hyphae, leading to formation of membrane invaginations and eventually rupture of the plasma membrane. Inhibition of beta-1,3-glucan synthesis reduces the formation of cell wall carbohydrate patches and delays cell integrity failure and fungal death. We propose that azole antifungals exert their fungicidal activity by triggering synthesis of cell wall carbohydrate patches that penetrate the plasma membrane, thereby killing the fungus. The elucidated mechanism may be potentially exploited as a novel approach for azole susceptibility testing.