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This is Your Brain on Cryptococcus: Pathogenic Fungus Loves Your Brain Sugar

Highly dangerous Cryptococcus fungi love sugar and will consume it anywhere because it helps them reproduce. In particular, they thrive on a sugar called inositol which is abundant in the human brain and spinal cord.

To borrow inositol from a person’s brain, the fungi have an expanded set of genes that encode for sugar transporter molecules. While a typical fungus has just two such genes, Cryptococcus have almost a dozen, according to Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD, chairman of the Duke Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

“Inositol is abundant in the human brain and in the fluid that bathes it (cerebral spinal fluid), which may be why this fungus has a predilection to infect the brain and cause meningitis,” Heitman said. “It has the machinery to efficiently move sugar molecules inside of its cells and thrive.”
 
 

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