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Architecture of the dynamic fungal cell wall

Abstract

The fungal cell wall is essential for growth and survival, and is a key target for antifungal drugs and the immune system. The cell wall must be robust but flexible, protective and shielding yet porous to nutrients and membrane vesicles and receptive to exogenous signals. Most fungi have a common inner wall skeleton of chitin and β-glucans that functions as a flexible viscoelastic frame to which a more diverse set of outer cell wall polymers and glycosylated proteins are attached. Whereas the inner wall largely determines shape and strength, the outer wall confers properties of hydrophobicity, adhesiveness, and chemical and immunological heterogeneity. The spatial organization and dynamic regulation of the wall in response to prevailing growth conditions enable fungi to thrive within changing, diverse and often hostile environments. Understanding this architecture provides opportunities to develop diagnostics and drugs to combat life-threatening fungal infections.

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Fig. 1: The cell wall defines the shape of the fungus.
Fig. 2: Architecture of the fungal cell wall.
Fig. 3: From microstructure to nanostructure of the cell wall.

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Acknowledgements

N.A.R.G. acknowledges Wellcome support of Senior Investigator (101873/Z/13/Z) and Collaborative (200208/A/15/Z, 215599/Z/19/Z) Awards, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Medical Mycology (MR/N006364/2) and the MRC (MR/M026663/2).

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Correspondence to Neil A. R. Gow or Megan D. Lenardon.

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Nature Reviews Microbiology thanks Jean-Paul Latgé; Peter Lipke; and Tuo Wang, who co-reviewed with Malitha Dickwella Widanage, for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Glossary

Protoplast

A membrane-bound cell compartment that remains after the cell wall has been removed.

Turgor pressure

The force generated by osmotic expansion of the cell membrane that pushes against the cell wall.

Appressoria

Specialized fungal cells that are used to penetrate plant cells. Very high turgor pressure in the appressoria is used to punch through the host plant cell.

Chitin ghosts

A cell wall preparation in which both the acid and alkali soluble components of the cell wall (proteins, mannans, glucans) are removed, leaving only the insoluble chitin skeleton of the wall.

Osmoticum

A single soluble molecule or a combination of soluble molecules that function to absorb water and create osmotic pressure within a cell.

Conidia

Fungal spores produced by asexual reproduction.

Pattern recognition receptors

(PRRs). Families of immune receptor proteins encoded in the germ line of humans and other animals that recognize molecules that are characteristic of the components of pathogens (pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs)).

Phages

Viruses that infect microorganisms; for example, bacteriophages are viruses that infect and replicate in bacterial cells.

Extracellular matrix

Extracellular polymers, including polysaccharides, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, that are secreted by and surround microorganisms within a biofilm.

Exocyst complex

A complex of proteins normally found at sites of active cell growth that function in gathering and tethering secretory vesicles to the cell membrane.

Pathogen-associated molecular patterns

(PAMPs). Components of pathogens, usually cell surface molecules, that are recognized by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) and trigger immune responses.

Triterpenoid

A class of molecules formed from three terpene units or six isoprene units that serve as precursors to fungal steroids.

Membranotopic peptide

A class of peptides that have a natural affinity and ability to interact with cell membranes.

Persister cells

Subpopulations of cells, usually within a biofilm, that are not resistant to but can survive exposure to an antimicrobial agent by becoming temporarily quiescent. Persister cells can seed regrowth of the microorganisms once the antimicrobial is removed.

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Gow, N.A.R., Lenardon, M.D. Architecture of the dynamic fungal cell wall. Nat Rev Microbiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00796-9

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