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Light therapy may combat fungal infections, new evidence suggests

Durham, N.C. A newly discovered mechanism by which an infectious fungus perceives light also plays an important role in its virulence, according to Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators at Duke University Medical Center. The findings suggest that changes in light following fungal invasion of the human body may be an important and previously overlooked cue that sparks infection, the researchers said.

The discovery in the human pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans further suggests that light therapy, in combination with anti-fungal drug treatments, might offer an effective method to combat a variety of fungal infections, particularly those of the skin or nails, said HHMI investigator Joseph Heitman, M.D., James B. Duke professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and medicine at Duke.

Light therapy is now used for medical conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder. The most common method, called bright-light therapy, requires that patients sit near a special light box fitted with high-intensity, full-spectrum or white light bulbs. UV irradiation is also used to repigment skin affected by the autoimmune disorder vitiligo.

The findings also have important implications for understanding early fungal evolution, Heitman and study lead author Alexander Idnurm, Ph.D., reported in a forthcoming issue of Public Library of Science Biology, published online March 15, 2005. The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund supported the research.

The potentially life-threatening fungus C. neoformans invades the central nervous system to cause disease, most commonly in patients who lack a functioning immune system, such as organ transplant recipients, those with HIV/AIDS, and patients treated with steroids or cancer chemotherapy. The fungus' global importance as a health threat has therefore risen in parallel with the increase in immunosuppressive therapies and the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic.
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Contact: Kendall Morgan
kendall.morgan@duke.edu
919-660-1306
Duke University Medical Center
14-Mar-2005


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