COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Researchers have discovered that a protein manufactured by the fungus Candida albicans mimics the actions of a specific mammalian protein, perhaps improving the organism's chances to flourish in immune-compromised patients.
In a paper in the latest issue of the journal Science, university researchers reported that the fungi's ability to adhere to cells lining the mucosal surfaces of the mouth depends on the presence of this protein. If the protein is missing, Candida simply cannot hang on.
Candida albicans is one of many microscopic organisms that live inside mammals, including humans. It normally exists at low levels in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. But in humans, when the immune system is weakened -- as it is in patients with AIDS, people who are HIV-positive, transplant and chemotherapy patients -- the fungus can proliferate.
Some infections, such as thrush in infants and vaginitis in women, can be mild. But among the serious infections patients acquire while in the hospital -- so-called nosocomial infections -- Candida ranks among the top five pathogens and is potentially fatal.
Occasionally, these outbreaks can breach the GI tract and infiltrate the bloodstream and solid organs, causing the latter to shut down because of tissue damage and the sheer quantity of fungus present.