Disease models & mechanisms

Mucosal candidiasis elicits NF-κB activation, proinflammatory gene expression and localized neutrophilia in zebrafish.

PMID 23720235


The epithelium performs a balancing act at the interface between an animal and its environment to enable both pathogen killing and tolerance of commensal microorganisms. Candida albicans is a clinically important human commensal that colonizes all human mucosal surfaces, yet is largely prevented from causing mucosal infections in immunocompetent individuals. Despite the importance of understanding host-pathogen interactions at the epithelium, no immunocompetent vertebrate model has been used to visualize these dynamics non-invasively. Here we demonstrate important similarities between swimbladder candidiasis in the transparent zebrafish and mucosal infection at the mammalian epithelium. Specifically, in the zebrafish swimmbladder infection model, we show dimorphic fungal growth, both localized and tissue-wide epithelial NF-κB activation, induction of NF-κB -dependent proinflammatory genes, and strong neutrophilia. Consistent with density-dependence models of host response based primarily on tissue culture experiments, we show that only high-level infection provokes widespread activation of NF-κB in epithelial cells and induction of proinflammatory genes. Similar to what has been found using in vitro mammalian models, we find that epithelial NF-κB activation can occur at a distance from the immediate site of contact with epithelial cells. Taking advantage of the ability to non-invasively image infection and host signaling at high resolution, we also report that epithelial NF-κB activation is diminished when phagocytes control the infection. This is the first system to model host response to mucosal infection in the juvenile zebrafish, and offers unique opportunities to investigate the tripartite interactions of C. albicans, epithelium and immune cells in an intact host.