Chitin, a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine, is an essential component of the fungal cell wall. Chitosan, a deacetylated form of chitin, is also important in maintaining cell wall integrity and is essential for Cryptococcus neoformans virulence. In their article, Gilbert et al. [N. M. Gilbert, L. G. Baker, C. A. Specht, and J. K. Lodge, mBio 3(1):e00007-12, 2012] demonstrate that the enzyme responsible for chitosan synthesis, chitin deacetylase (CDA), is differentially attached to the cell membrane and wall. Bioactivity is localized to the cell membrane, where it is covalently linked via a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor. Findings from this study significantly enhance our understanding of cryptococcal cell wall biology. Besides the role of chitin in supporting structural stability, chitin and host enzymes with chitinase activity have an important role in host defense and modifying the inflammatory response. Thus, chitin appears to provide a link between the fungus and host that involves both innate and adaptive immune responses. Recently, there has been increased attention to the role of chitinases in the pathogenesis of allergic inflammation, especially asthma. We review these findings and explore the possible connection between fungal infections, the induction of chitinases, and asthma.
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