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Amphibian mucus triggers a developmental transition in the frog-killing chytrid fungus

May 4, 2022

The frog-killing chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is decimating amphibian populations around the world. Bd has a biphasic life cycle, alternating between motile zoospores that disperse within aquatic environments and sessile sporangia that grow within the mucus-coated skin of amphibians. Zoospores lack cell walls and swim rapidly through aquatic environments using a posterior flagellum and crawl across solid surfaces using actin structures similar to those of human cells. Bd transitions from this motile dispersal form to its reproductive form by absorbing its flagellum, rearranging its actin cytoskeleton, and rapidly building a chitin-based cell wall—a process called “encystation.” The resulting sporangium increases in volume by two or three orders of magnitude while undergoing rounds of mitosis without cytokinesis to form a large ceonocyte. The sporangium then cellurizes by dividing its cytoplasm into dozens of new zoospores. After exiting the sporangium through a discharge tube onto the amphibian skin, daughter zoospores can then reinfect the same individual or find a new host. Although encystation is critical to Bd growth, whether and how this developmental transition is triggered by external signals was previously unknown. We discovered that exposure to amphibian mucus triggers rapid and reproducible encystation within minutes. This response can be recapitulated with purified mucin, the bulk component of mucus, but not by similarly viscous methylcellulose or simple sugars. Mucin-induced encystation does not require gene expression but does require surface adhesion, calcium signaling, and modulation of the actin cytoskeleton. Mucus-induced encystation may represent a key mechanism for synchronizing Bd development with the arrival at the host.

Publication Year 2022
Title Amphibian mucus triggers a developmental transition in the frog-killing chytrid fungus
DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2022.04.006
Authors Kristyn A. Robinson, Sarah M. Prostak, Evan H. Campbell Grant, Lillian K. Fritz-Laylin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Current Biology
Index ID 70231238
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center