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Melanin is a major virulence factor in pathogenic fungi that enhances the ability of fungal cells to resist immune clearance. Cryptococcus neoformans is an important human pathogenic fungus that synthesizes melanin from exogenous tissue catecholamine precursors during infection, but the type of melanin made in cryptococcal meningoencephalitis is unknown. We analyzed the efficacy of various catecholamines found in brain tissue in supporting melanization using animal brain tissue and synthetic catecholamine mixtures reflecting brain tissue proportions. Solid-state NMR spectra of the melanin pigment produced from such mixtures yielded more melanin than expected if only the preferred constituent dopamine had been incorporated, suggesting uptake of additional catecholamines. Probing the biosynthesis of melanin using radiolabeled catecholamines revealed that C. neoformans melanization simultaneously incorporated more than one catecholamine, implying that the pigment was polytypic in nature. Nonetheless, melanin derived from individual or mixed catecholamines had comparable ability to protect C. neoformans against ultraviolet light and oxidants. Our results indicate that melanin produced during infection differs depending on the catecholamine composition of tissue and that melanin pigment synthesized in vivo is likely to accrue from the polymerization of a mixture of precursors. From a practical standpoint, our results strongly suggest that using dopamine as a polymerization precursor is capable of producing melanin pigment comparable to that produced during infection. On a more fundamental level, our findings uncover additional structural complexity for natural cryptococcal melanin by demonstrating that pigment produced during human infection is likely to be composed of polymerized moieties derived from chemically different precursors.


This work was originally published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, available at

This is an open access article under the CC BY license (



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