Metabolic competition between host and pathogen dictates inflammasome responses to fungal infection

Timothy M. Tucey, Jiyoti Verma, Françios A.B. Olivier, Tricia L. Lo, Avril A.B. Robertson, Thomas Naderer, Ana Traven

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9 Citations (Scopus)


The NLRP3 inflammasome has emerged as a central immune regulator that senses virulence factors expressed by microbial pathogens for triggering inflammation. Inflammation can be harmful and therefore this response must be tightly controlled. The mechanisms by which immune cells, such as macrophages, discriminate benign from pathogenic microbes to control the NLRP3 inflammasome remain poorly defined. Here we used live cell imaging coupled with a compendium of diverse clinical isolates to define how macrophages respond and activate NLRP3 when faced with the human yeast commensal and pathogen Candida albicans. We show that metabolic competition by C. albicans, rather than virulence traits such as hyphal formation, activates NLRP3 in macrophages. Inflammasome activation is triggered by glucose starvation in macrophages, which occurs when fungal load increases sufficiently to outcompete macrophages for glucose. Consistently, reducing Candida's ability to compete for glucose and increasing glucose availability for macrophages tames inflammatory responses. We define the mechanistic requirements for glucose starvation-dependent inflammasome activation by Candida and show that it leads to inflammatory cytokine production, but it does not trigger pyroptotic macrophage death. Pyroptosis occurs only with some Candida isolates and only under specific experimental conditions, whereas inflammasome activation by glucose starvation is broadly relevant. In conclusion, macrophages use their metabolic status, specifically glucose metabolism, to sense fungal metabolic activity and activate NLRP3 when microbial load increases. Therefore, a major consequence of Candida-induced glucose starvation in macrophages is activation of inflammatory responses, with implications for understanding how metabolism modulates inflammation in fungal infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008695
Number of pages30
JournalPLoS Pathogens
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2020


  • macrophages
  • glucose
  • candida albicans
  • inflammasomes
  • glucose metabolism
  • mitochondria
  • in vivo imaging
  • tissue cultures

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