Receptor-kinase EGFR-MAPK adaptor proteins mediate the epithelial response to Candida albicans via the cytolytic peptide toxin, candidalysin

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Candida albicans (C. albicans) is a dimorphic commensal human fungal pathogen that can cause severe oropharyngeal candidiasis (oral thrush) in susceptible hosts. During invasive infection, C. albicans hyphae invade oral epithelial cells (OECs) and secrete candidalysin, a pore-forming cytolytic peptide that is required for C. albicans pathogenesis at mucosal surfaces. Candidalysin is produced in the hyphal invasion pocket and triggers cell damage responses in OECs. Candidalysin also activates multiple MAPK-based signaling events that collectively drive the production of downstream inflammatory mediators that coordinate downstream innate and adaptive immune responses. The activities of candidalysin are dependent on signaling through the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Here, we interrogated known EGFR-MAPK signaling intermediates for their roles mediating the OEC response to C. albicans infection. Using RNA silencing and pharmacological inhibition, we identified five key adaptors, including growth factor receptor-bound protein 2 (Grb2), Grb2-associated binding protein 1 (Gab1), Src homology and collagen (Shc), SH2-containing protein tyrosine phosphatase-2 (Shp2), and casitas B-lineage lymphoma (c-Cbl). We determined that all of these signaling effectors were inducibly phosphorylated in response to C. albicans. These phosphorylation events occurred in a candidalysin-dependent manner and additionally required EGFR phosphorylation, matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), and cellular calcium flux to activate a complete OEC response to fungal infection. Of these, Gab1, Grb2, and Shp2 were the dominant drivers of ERK1/2 activation and the subsequent production of downstream innate-acting cytokines. Together, these results identify the key adaptor proteins that drive the EGFR signaling mechanisms that underlie oral epithelial responses to C. albicans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102419
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number10
Early online date1 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • adaptor protein
  • Candida
  • candidalysin
  • epidermal growth factor receptor
  • epithelial cells


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