Ploidy plasticity: A rapid and reversible strategy for adaptation to stress

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Organisms must be able to grow in a broad range of conditions found in their normal growth environment and for a species to survive, at least some cells in a population must adapt rapidly to extreme stress conditions that kill the majority of cells. Candida albicans, the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans resides as a commensal in a broad range of niches within the human host. Growth conditions in these niches are highly variable and stresses such exposure to antifungal drugs can inhibit population growth abruptly. One of the mechanisms C. albicans uses to adapt rapidly to severe stresses is aneuploidy-a change in the total number of chromosomes such that one or more chromosomes are present in excess or are missing. Aneuploidy is quite common in wild isolates of fungi and other eukaryotic microbes. Aneuploidy can be achieved by chromosome nondisjunction during a simple mitosis, and in stress conditions it begins to appear after two mitotic divisions via a tetraploid intermediate. Aneuploidy usually resolves to euploidy (a balanced number of chromosomes), but not necessarily to diploidy. Aneuploidy of a specific chromosome can confer new phenotypes by virtue of the copy number of specific genes on that chromosome relative to the copies of other genes. Thus, it is not aneuploidy per se, but the relative copy number of specific genes that confers many tested aneuploidy-associated phenotypes. Aneuploidy almost always carries a fitness cost, as cells express most proteins encoded by genes on the aneuploid chromosome in proportion to the number of DNA copies of the gene. This is thought to be due to imbalances in the stoichiometry of different components of large complexes. Despite this, fitness is a relative function-and if stress is severe and population growth has slowed considerably, then even small growth advantages of some aneuploidies can provide a selective advantage. Thus, aneuploidy appears to provide a transient solution to severe and sudden stress conditions, and may promote the appearance of more stable solutions as well. Importantly, in many clinical and environmental isolates of different fungal species aneuploidy does not appear to have a high fitness cost, and is well-tolerated. Thus, rapid changes in ploidy may provide the opportunity for rapid adaptation to stress conditions in the environment, host niches or in response to antifungal drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfow020
JournalFEMS Yeast Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2016


  • Aneuploidy
  • Diversity
  • Rapid adaptation


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