Newly Identified Yeast Could Prevent Fungal Infections

Fungal Infection Fungus

A study by the Weizmann Institute of Science introduces Kazachstania weizmannii, a yeast that competes with and reduces populations of Candida albicans in the gut. This discovery opens new pathways for preventing invasive candidiasis in at-risk patients, highlighting a potential breakthrough in microbial therapy.

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have identified a yeast that could be used to prevent invasive candidiasis, a major cause of death in hospitalized and immunocompromised patients. The study, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM), shows that the novel yeast lives harmlessly in the intestines of mice and humans and can displace the yeast responsible for candidiasis, Candida albicans.

Millions of microbial species live within or on the human body, many of them being harmless or even beneficial to human health. The microscopic yeast C. albicans is commonly found in the intestines and other mucosal surfaces of the body and is usually benign, though occasionally it may overgrow and cause superficial infections commonly known as thrush.

Under certain circumstances, however, the yeast may penetrate the intestinal barrier and systemically infect the blood or internal organs. This dangerous condition, known as invasive candidiasis, is commonly seen in healthcare environments, particularly in immunocompromised patients, with mortality rates of up to 25%.

K. weizmannii Mitigates Invasive Candidiasis in Immunosuppressed Mice Graphic

C. albicans spreads to the kidneys of immunosuppressed mice (left), but invasive candidiasis is mitigated by exposure to K. weizmannii (right). Credit: 2024 Sekeresova Kralova et al. Originally published in Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Discovery of Kazachstania Weizmannii

While studying yeast infections in laboratory mice, Steffen Jung and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute discovered that some of their mice carried a novel species of yeast that prevented the animals from being infected with C. albicans. The new species, which the researchers named Kazachstania weizmannii, is closely related to yeast associated with sourdough production and appears to live innocuously in the intestines of mice, even when the animals are immunosuppressed.

The researchers found that K. weizmannii can outcompete C. albicans for its place within the gut, reducing the population of C. albicans in mouse intestines. Moreover, while C. albicans can cross the intestinal barrier and spread to other organs in immunosuppressed mice, the presence of K. weizmannii in the animals’ drinking water significantly delayed the onset of invasive candidiasis.

Notably, Jung and colleagues also identified K. weizmannii and other, similar species in human gut samples. Their preliminary data suggest that the presence of K. weizmannii was mutually exclusive with the presence of Candida species, suggesting that the two species might also compete with each other in human intestines.

“By virtue of its ability to successfully compete with C. albicans in the murine gut, K. weizmannii lowered the C. albicans burden and mitigated candidiasis development in immunosuppressed animals,” Jung says. “This competition between Kazachstania and Candida species could have potential therapeutic value for the management of C. albicans–mediated diseases.”

Reference: “Competitive fungal commensalism mitigates candidiasis pathology” by Jarmila Sekeresova Kralova, Catalina Donic, Bareket Dassa, Ilana Livyatan, Paul Mathias Jansen, Shifra Ben-Dor, Lena Fidel, Sébastien Trzebanski, Lian Narunsky-Haziza, Omer Asraf, Ori Brenner, Hagit Dafni, Ghil Jona, Sigalit Boura-Halfon, Noa Stettner, Eran Segal, Sascha Brunke, Yitzhak Pilpel, Ravid Straussman, David Zeevi, Petra Bacher, Bernhard Hube, Neta Shlezinger and Steffen Jung, 18 March 2024, Journal of Experimental Medicine.
DOI: 10.1084/jem.20231686

The study was funded by the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Israeli Science Foundation, and the German Research Foundation.

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