Candida albicans exhibits heterogeneous and adaptive cytoprotective responses to anti-fungal compounds

Vanessa Dumeaux^, Samira Massahi^, Van Bettauer, Sanny Khurdia, Anna Carolina Borges Pereira Costa, Raha Parvizi Omran, Shawn Simpson, Jinglin Lucy Xie, Malcolm Whiteway, Judith Berman, Michael T Hallett., Biorxiv (2022)
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Candida albicans is an opportunistic human pathogen which represents a significant threat to human health and is associated with substantial socio-economic burden. Current antifungal treatments fail at least in part because C. albicans can initiate a strong drug tolerance response, allowing cells to grow at concentrations above their minimal inhibitory concentration. Our goal is to better characterize this cytoprotective tolerance program at the molecular single cell level. We present here a nano-liter droplet-based fungal single cell transcriptomics platform capable of profiling thousands of individual C. albicans SC5314 cells in an efficient manner. Profiles of untreated cells partition into three transcriptional clusters with each highlighting a cell cycle checkpoint coupled with specific metabolic and stress responses, as perhaps expected. After just two days post-treatment with fluconazole, surviving cells bifurcate into two distinct subpopulations: the so-called α response involving upregulation of protein translation, rRNA processing and mitochondrial cellular respiration, and the β response involving processes and stress responses that assist damaged cells. By extending our time series to six days and profiling with other antifungals and bioactive compounds, we provide evidence that surviving cells transition from the α to β responses mediated by the Ribosome Assembly Stress Response (RASTR).