Filamentation in Candida auris, an emerging fungal pathogen of humans: passage through the mammalian body induces a heritable phenotypic switch

Morphological plasticity has historically been an indicator of increased virulence among fungal pathogens, allowing rapid adaptation to changing environments. Candida auris has been identified as an emerging multidrug-resistant human pathogen of global importance. Since the discovery of this species, it has been thought that C. auris is incapable of filamentous growth. Here, we report the discovery of filamentation and three distinct cell types in C. auris: typical yeast, filamentation-competent (FC) yeast, and filamentous cells. These cell types form a novel phenotypic switching system that contains a heritable (typical yeast-filament) and a nonheritable (FC-filament) switch. Intriguingly, the heritable switch between the typical yeast and the FC/filamentous phenotype is triggered by passage through a mammalian body, whereas the switch between the FC and filamentous phenotype is nonheritable and temperature-dependent. Low temperatures favor the filamentous phenotype, whereas high temperatures promote the FC yeast phenotype. Systemic in vivo and in vitro investigations were used to characterize phenotype-specific variations in global gene expression, secreted aspartyl proteinase (SAP) activity, and changes in virulence, indicating potential for niche-specific adaptations. Taken together, our study not only sheds light on the pathogenesis and biology of C. auris but also provides a novel example of morphological and epigenetic switching in fungi.