Tornadic shear stress induces a transient, calcineurin-dependent hyper-virulent phenotype in Mucorales molds
Trauma-related necrotizing myocutaneous mucormycosis (NMM) has a high morbidity and mortality in victims of combat-related injuries, geo-meteorological disasters, and severe burns. Inspired by the observation that several recent clusters of NMM have been associated with extreme mechanical forces (e.g. during tornados), we studied the impact of mechanical stress on Mucoralean biology and virulence in a Drosophila melanogaster infection model. In contrast to other experimental procedures to exert
... mechanical stress, tornadic shear challenge (TSC) by magnetic stirring induced a hyper-virulent phenotype in several clinically relevant Mucorales species but not in Aspergillus or Fusarium. Whereas fungal growth rates, morphogenesis, and susceptibility to noxious environments or phagocytes were not altered by TSC, soluble factors released in the supernatant of shear-challenged R. arrhizus spores rendered static spores hyper-virulent. Consistent with a rapid decay of TSC-induced hyper-virulence, minimal transcriptional changes were revealed by comparative RNA sequencing analysis of static and shear-challenged Rhizopus arrhizus. However, inhibition of the calcineurin/heat shock protein 90 (hsp90) stress response circuitry by cyclosporine A (CsA) and tanespimycin abrogated the increased pathogenicity of R. arrhizus spores following TSC. Similarly, calcineurin loss-of-function mutants of Mucor circinelloides displayed no increased virulence capacity in flies after undergoing TSC. Collectively, these results establish that TSC induces hyper-virulence specifically in Mucorales and point out the calcineurin/hsp90 pathway as a key orchestra-tor of this phenotype. Our findings invite future studies of topical calcineurin inhibitor treatment of wounds as an adjunct mitigation strategy for NMM following high-energy trauma.