Quorum sensing (QS) is a cell density-dependent mechanism of communication between microorganisms, characterized by the release of signaling molecules that affect microbial metabolism and gene expression in a synchronized way. In this study, we investigated cell density-dependent behaviors mediated by conditioned medium (CM) in the pathogenic encapsulated fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. CM produced dose-dependent increases in the growth of planktonic and biofilm cells, glucuronoxylomannan release, and melanin synthesis, important virulence attributes of this organism. Mass spectrometry revealed the presence of pantothenic acid (PA) in our samples, and commercial PA was able to increase growth and melanization, although not to the same extent as CM. Additionally, we found four mutants that were either unable to produce active CM or failed to respond with increased growth in the presence of wild-type CM, providing genetic evidence for the existence of intercellular communication in C. neoformans. C. neoformans CM also increased the growth of Cryptococcus albidus, Candida albicans, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Conversely, CM from Cryptococcus albidus, C. albicans, S. cerevisiae, and Sporothrix schenckii increased C. neoformans growth. In summary, we report the existence of a new QS system regulating the growth and virulence factor expression of C. neoformans in vitro and, possibly, also able to regulate growth in other fungi.
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