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GRP78 and Integrins Play Different Roles in Host Cell Invasion during Mucormycosis


Mucormycosis, caused by Rhizopus species, is a life-threatening fungal infection that occurs in patients immunocompromised by diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), cytotoxic chemotherapy, immunosuppressive therapy, hematologic malignancies, or severe trauma. Inhaled Rhizopus spores cause pulmonary infections in patients with hematologic malignancies, while patients with DKA are much more prone to rhinoorbital/cerebral mucormycosis. Here, we show that Rhizopus delemar interacts with glucose-regulated protein 78 (GRP78) on nasal epithelial cells via its spore coat protein CotH3 to invade and damage the nasal epithelial cells. Expression of the two proteins is significantly enhanced by high glucose, iron, and ketone body levels (hallmark features of DKA), potentially leading to frequently lethal rhinoorbital/cerebral mucormycosis. In contrast, R. delemar CotH7 recognizes integrin β1 as a receptor on alveolar epithelial cells, causing the activation of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and leading to host cell invasion. Anti-integrin β1 antibodies inhibit R. delemar invasion of alveolar epithelial cells and protect mice from pulmonary mucormycosis. Our results show that R. delemar interacts with different mammalian receptors depending on the host cell type. Susceptibility of patients with DKA primarily to rhinoorbital/cerebral disease can be explained by host factors typically present in DKA and known to upregulate CotH3 and nasal GRP78, thereby trapping the fungal cells within the rhinoorbital milieu, leading to subsequent invasion and damage. Our studies highlight that mucormycosis pathogenesis can potentially be overcome by the development of novel customized therapies targeting niche-specific host receptors or their respective fungal ligands.IMPORTANCE Mucormycosis caused by Rhizopus species is a fungal infection with often fatal prognosis. Inhalation of spores is the major route of entry, with nasal and alveolar epithelial cells among the first cells that encounter the fungi. In patients with hematologic malignancies or those undergoing cytotoxic chemotherapy, Rhizopus causes pulmonary infections. On the other hand, DKA patients predominantly suffer from rhinoorbital/cerebral mucormycosis. The reason for such disparity in disease types by the same fungus is not known. Here, we show that the unique susceptibility of DKA subjects to rhinoorbital/cerebral mucormycosis is likely due to specific interaction between nasal epithelial cell GRP78 and fungal CotH3, the expression of which increases in the presence of host factors present in DKA. In contrast, pulmonary mucormycosis is initiated via interaction of inhaled spores expressing CotH7 with integrin β1 receptor, which activates EGFR to induce fungal invasion of host cells. These results introduce a plausible explanation for disparate disease manifestations in DKA versus those in hematologic malignancy patients and provide a foundation for development of therapeutic interventions against these lethal forms of mucormycosis.

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