This work extends our previous observation that the fungus Candida albicans secretes micromolar levels of farnesol and that accumulation of farnesol in vitro prevents the yeast-to-mycelium conversion in a quorum-sensing manner. What does farnesol do in vivo? The purpose of this study was to determine the role of farnesol during infection with a well-established mouse model of systemic candidiasis with C. albicans A72 administered by tail vein injection. This question was addressed by altering both endogenous and exogenous farnesol. For endogenous farnesol, we created a knockout mutation in DPP3, the gene encoding a phosphatase which converts farnesyl pyrophosphate to farnesol. This mutant (KWN2) produced six times less farnesol and was ca. 4.2 times less pathogenic than its SN152 parent. The strain with DPP3 reconstituted (KWN4) regained both its farnesol production levels and pathogenicity. These mutants (KWN1 to KWN4) retained their full dimorphic capability. With regard to exogenous farnesol, farnesol was administered either intraperitoneally (i.p.) or orally in the drinking water. Mice receiving C. albicans intravenously and farnesol (20 mM) orally had enhanced mortality (P < 0.03). Similarly, mice (n = 40) injected with 1.0 ml of 20 mM farnesol i.p. had enhanced mortality (P < 0.03), and the onset of mortality was 30 h sooner than for mice which received a control injection without farnesol. The effect of i.p. farnesol was more pronounced (P < 0.04) when mice were inoculated with a sublethal dose of C. albicans. These mice started to die 4 days earlier, and the percent survival on day 6 postinoculation (p.i.) was five times lower than for mice receiving C. albicans with control i.p. injections. In all experiments, mice administered farnesol alone or Tween 80 alone remained normal throughout a 14-day observation period. Finally, beginning at 12 h p.i., higher numbers of C. albicans cells were detected in kidneys from mice receiving i.p. farnesol than in those from mice receiving control i.p. injections. Thus, reduced endogenous farnesol decreased virulence, while providing exogenous farnesol increased virulence. Taken together, these data suggest that farnesol may play a role in disease pathogenesis, either directly or indirectly, and thus may represent a newly identified virulence factor.
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