Dermatophytosis is caused by fungi infecting keratinised tissues and represents the most common and disseminated group of mycoses. Worldwide an estimated 20-25% of people suffer from fungi infecting skin or nails, leading to conditions such as athlete’s foot or ringworm. Symptoms are usually mild, but infections are frequently recurrent, thus reducing the quality of life. Importantly, skin fungi can also cause serious and life-threatening disease in for example organ-transplant, cancer or AIDS patients. The most common causative agents of these infections are dermatophytes such as Trichophyton rubrum.
Understanding the mechanisms underlying fungal infection is the rational basis for the development of therapeutic and prophylactic strategies. We have recently developed an ex vivo skin infection model for dermatophytes. This model will be used to study the infection process in greater detail, with a particular focus on analysing the role of virulence factors in different stages of infection. Molecular biology techniques will be used to create strains of T. rubrum or other related species that lack specific virulence factors, and then determine the importance of these using the infection model. However, current genetic techniques used for dermatophytes are fairly limiting, so an important part of the project is also to develop tools to make T. rubrum more amenable to genetic manipulation.
The ultimate goal of the project is to identify therapeutic targets, thereby providing a platform for the development of novel antifungal compounds.