Live Imaging of Host-Parasite Interactions in a Zebrafish Infection Model Reveals Cryptococcal Determinants of Virulence and Central Nervous System Invasion.

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UNLABELLED: The human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans is capable of infecting a broad range of hosts, from invertebrates like amoebas and nematodes to standard vertebrate models such as mice and rabbits. Here we have taken advantage of a zebrafish model to investigate host-pathogen interactions of Cryptococcus with the zebrafish innate immune system, which shares a highly conserved framework with that of mammals. Through live-imaging observations and genetic knockdown, we establish that macrophages are the primary immune cells responsible for responding to and containing acute cryptococcal infections. By interrogating survival and cryptococcal burden following infection with a panel of Cryptococcus mutants, we find that virulence factors initially identified as important in causing disease in mice are also necessary for pathogenesis in zebrafish larvae. Live imaging of the cranial blood vessels of infected larvae reveals that C. neoformans is able to penetrate the zebrafish brain following intravenous infection. By studying a C. neoformans FNX1 gene mutant, we find that blood-brain barrier invasion is dependent on a known cryptococcal invasion-promoting pathway previously identified in a murine model of central nervous system invasion. The zebrafish-C. neoformans platform provides a visually and genetically accessible vertebrate model system for cryptococcal pathogenesis with many of the advantages of small invertebrates. This model is well suited for higher-throughput screening of mutants, mechanistic dissection of cryptococcal pathogenesis in live animals, and use in the evaluation of therapeutic agents. IMPORTANCE: Cryptococcus neoformans is an important opportunistic pathogen that is estimated to be responsible for more than 600,000 deaths worldwide annually. Existing mammalian models of cryptococcal pathogenesis are costly, and the analysis of important pathogenic processes such as meningitis is laborious and remains a challenge to visualize. Conversely, although invertebrate models of cryptococcal infection allow high-throughput assays, they fail to replicate the anatomical complexity found in vertebrates and, specifically, cryptococcal stages of disease. Here we have utilized larval zebrafish as a platform that overcomes many of these limitations. We demonstrate that the pathogenesis of C. neoformans infection in zebrafish involves factors identical to those in mammalian and invertebrate infections. We then utilize the live-imaging capacity of zebrafish larvae to follow the progression of cryptococcal infection in real time and establish a relevant model of the critical central nervous system infection phase of disease in a nonmammalian model.





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Tenor, Jennifer L, Stefan H Oehlers, Jialu L Yang, David M Tobin and John R Perfect (2015). Live Imaging of Host-Parasite Interactions in a Zebrafish Infection Model Reveals Cryptococcal Determinants of Virulence and Central Nervous System Invasion. MBio, 6(5). pp. e01425–e01415. 10.1128/mBio.01425-15 Retrieved from

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Jennifer L Tenor

Assistant Professor in Medicine

David M. Tobin

Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Tuberculosis: Mycobacterial Pathogenesis and Host Susceptibility

Tuberculosis kills 1.5 million people annually. Our laboratory aims to understand the intricate interplay between mycobacteria and their hosts using a combination of model organism genetics, human genetics, pharmacology and high-resolution microscopy. By identifying key pathways utilized by the infecting bacteria and the host innate immune system, we hope to discover new therapeutic targets and interventions to combat this enduringly destructive disease.

Using a Mycobacterium/zebrafish model, we have identified new host susceptibility loci for tuberculosis. Zebrafish are natural hosts to Mycobacterium marinum, the closest relative of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. Because zebrafish embryos and larvae are optically transparent, we are able to visualize the complex details of mycobacterial pathogenesis in whole, live animals. The facile genetics of the zebrafish allow us to map and positionally clone affected host susceptibility genes. In addition, zebrafish larvae are remarkably permeable to small molecules, providing a platform for whole-animal pharmacological manipulation of specific host immune responses.

We have identified novel pathways that modulate susceptibility to tuberculosis. We have shown that genes identified in the zebrafish model are also important in human tuberculosis. We find robust associations of human variants in a specific eicosanoid pathway with susceptibility to both tuberculosis and leprosy.

We have active collaborations in both Vietnam and Guatemala. In Guatemala, we are working with the Clínica Familiar Luis Angel García and the Asociación de Salud Integral to support projects involving HIV-infected patients and to understand the dynamics of TB transmission in Central America.


John Robert Perfect

James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Medicine

Research in my laboratory focuses around several aspects of medical mycology. We are investigating antifungal agents (new and old) in animal models of candida and cryptococcal infections. We have examined clinical correlation of in vitro antifungal susceptibility testing and with in vivo outcome. Our basic science project examines the molecular pathogenesis of cryptococcal infections. We have developed a molecular foundation for C. neoformans, including transformation systems, gene disruptions, differential gene expression screens, and cloning pathogenesis genes. The goal of this work is to use C. neoformans as a model yeast system to identify molecular targets for antifungal drug development. There are a series of clinical trials in fungal infections which are being coordinated through this laboratory and my work also includes a series of antibiotic trials in various aspects of infections. Finally, we have now been awarded a NIH sponsored Mycology Unit for 5 years with 6 senior investigators which is focused on C. neoformans as a pathogenic model system, but will include multiple areas of medical mycology from diagnosis to treatment.

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