A lethal fungal pathogen directly alters tight junction proteins in the skin of a susceptible amphibian [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Julia Gauberg, Nicholas Wu, Rebecca L. Cramp, Scott P. Kelly, and Craig E. Franklin

Bacterial and viral pathogens can weaken epithelial barriers by targeting and disrupting tight junction (TJ) proteins. However, comparatively little is known about the direct effects of fungal pathogens on TJ proteins and their expression. The disease chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), is threatening amphibian populations worldwide. Bd is known to infect amphibian skin and disrupt cutaneous osmoregulation. However, exactly how this occurs is poorly understood. This study considered the impact of Bd infection on the barrier properties of the Australian green tree frog (Litoria caerulea) epidermis by examining how inoculation of animals with Bd influenced the paracellular movement of FITC-dextran (4 kDa, FD-4) across the skin in association with alterations in the mRNA and protein abundance of select TJ proteins of the epidermal TJ complex. It was observed that Bd infection increased paracellular movement of FD-4 across the skin linearly with fungal infection load. In addition, Bd infection increased transcript abundance of the tricellular TJ (tTJ) protein tricellulin (Tric) as well as the bicellular TJ (bTJ) proteins occludin (Ocln), claudin (Cldn)-1, Cldn-4 and the scaffolding TJ protein zonula occludens 1 (ZO-1). However, while Tric protein abundance increased in accord with changes in transcript abundance, protein abundance of Cldn-1 was significantly reduced and Ocln protein abundance was unchanged. Data indicate that disruption of cutaneous osmoregulation in L. caerulea following Bd infection occurs, at least in part, by an increase in epidermal paracellular permeability in association with compromised integrity of the epidermal TJ complex.

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