Chitin and glucan, the yin and yang of the fungal cell wall, implications for antifungal drug discovery and therapy

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53 Citations (Scopus)


The structural carbohydrate polymers glucan and chitin compliment and reinforce each other in a dynamic process to maintain the integrity and physical strength of the fungal cell wall. The assembly of chitin and glucan in the cell wall of the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the polymorphic human pathogen Candida albicans are essential processes that involve a range of fungal-specific enzymes and regulatory networks. The fungal cell wall is, therefore, an attractive target for novel therapies as host cells lack many cell wall-related proteins. The most recent class of antifungal drug approved for clinical use, the echinocandins, targets the synthesis of cell wall ß(1-3)glucan. The echinocandins are effective at treating invasive and bloodstream Candida infections and are now widely used in the clinic. However, there have been sporadic reports of breakthrough infections in patients undergoing echinocandin therapy. The acquisition of point mutations in the FKS genes that encode the catalytic ß(1-3)glucan synthase subunits, the target of the echinocandins, has emerged as a dominant resistance mechanism. Cells with elevated chitin levels are also less susceptible to echinocandins and in addition, treatment with sub-MIC echinocandin activates cell wall salvage pathways that increase chitin synthesis to compensate for reduced glucan production. The development of drugs targeting the cell wall has already proven to be beneficial in providing an alternative class of drug for use in the clinic. Other cell wall targets such as chitin synthesis still hold great potential for drug development but careful consideration should be given to the capacity of fungi to manipulate their walls in a dynamic response to cell wall perturbations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-172
Number of pages28
JournalAdvances in Applied Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • candida
  • chitin
  • echinocandins
  • glucan
  • saccharomyces


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