Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2015


Candida albicans, Quinones, Mouse models, Lipid peroxidation, Cell membranes, Antioxidants, Oxidative Stress, Mutant Strains


The fungal pathogen Candida albicans causes lethal systemic infections in humans. To better define how pathogens resist oxidative attack by the immune system, we examined a family of four Flavodoxin-Like Proteins (FLPs) in C. albicans. In agreement with previous studies showing that FLPs in bacteria and plants act as NAD(P)H quinone oxidoreductases, a C.albicans quadruple mutant lacking all four FLPs (pst1Δ, pst2Δ, pst3Δ, ycp4Δ) was more sensitive to benzoquinone. Interestingly, the quadruple mutant was also more sensitive to a variety of oxidants. Quinone reductase activity confers important antioxidant effects because resistance to oxidation was restored in the quadruple mutant by expressing either Escherichia coli wrbA or mammalian NQO1, two distinct types of quinone reductases. FLPs were detected at the plasma membrane in C. albicans, and the quadruple mutant was more sensitive to linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid that can auto-oxidize and promote lipid peroxidation. These observations suggested that FLPs reduce ubiquinone (coenzyme Q), enabling it to serve as an antioxidant in the membrane. In support of this, a C. albicans coq3Δ mutant that fails to synthesize ubiquinone was also highly sensitive to oxidative stress. FLPs are critical for survival in the host, as the quadruple mutant was avirulent in a mouse model of systemic candidiasis under conditions where infection with wild type C. albicans was lethal. The quadruple mutant cells initially grew well in kidneys, the major site of C. albicans growth in mice, but then declined after the influx of neutrophils and by day 4 post-infection 33% of the mice cleared the infection. Thus, FLPs and ubiquinone are important new antioxidant mechanisms that are critical for fungal virulence. The potential of FLPs as novel targets for antifungal therapy is further underscored by their absence in mammalian cells.

Author Summary

Oxidative damage is a fundamental problem for cells and a particular challenge for microbial pathogens, which require special mechanisms to resist the oxidative attack by the host immune system. We identified four proteins in the human fungal pathogen Candida albicansthat belong to a large family of enzymes in bacteria and plants that reduce quinone molecules to detoxify them. Interestingly, mutational studies in C. albicans showed that these enzymes also confer resistance to a wide range of oxidants, suggesting they may have broader impact by reducing the major quinone present in cells (ubiquinone or coenzyme Q). In support of this, we found that mutating the COQ3 gene to block ubiquinone synthesis rendered cells highly sensitive to oxidative stress, revealing that it plays a very important antioxidant function in addition to its well known role in energy metabolism. These quinone reductases play a critical role in vivo, as they were required for virulence in mouse infections studies. Since mammalian cells lack this type of quinone reductase, this difference could be exploited to develop much needed novel therapeutic approaches for fungal and bacterial pathogens.


Published PLoS Pathog 11(9): e1005147. doi:

Data Availability: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

Funding: This research was supported by a Public Health Service grant awarded to JBK from the National Institutes of Health (RO1 AI47837; The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.



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