The genus Pseudogymnoascus encompasses soil psychrophilic fungi living also in caves. Some are opportunistic pathogens; nevertheless, they do not cause outbreaks. Pseudogymnoascus destructans is the causative agent of the white-nose syndrome, which is decimating cave-hibernating bats. We used comparative eco-physiology to contrast the enzymatic potential and conidial resilience of P. destructans with that of phylogenetically diverse cave fungi, including Pseudogymnoascus spp., dermatophytes and outdoor saprotrophs. Enzymatic potential was assessed by Biolog MicroArray and by growth on labelled substrates and conidial viability was detected by flow cytometry. Pseudogymnoascusdestructans was specific by extensive losses of metabolic variability and by ability of lipid degradation. We suppose that lipases are important enzymes allowing fungal hyphae to digest and invade the skin. Pseudogymnoascus destructans prefers nitrogenous substrates occurring in bat skin and lipids. Additionally, P. destructans alkalizes growth medium, which points to another possible virulence mechanism. Temperature above 30 °C substantially decreases conidial viability of cave fungi including P. destructans. Nevertheless, survival of P. destructans conidia prolongs by the temperature regime simulating beginning of the flight season, what suggests that conidia could persist on the body surface of bats and contribute to disease spreading during bats active season.
The challenges of surviving periods of increased physiological stress elicit selective pressures that drive adaptations to overcome hardships. Bats in the Palearctic region survive winter in hibernation. We sampled single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in hibernating Myotis myotis bats using double-digest restriction site-associated DNA sequencing and we associated the genomic variability with the observed phenotypes reflecting hibernation site preference, body condition and bat health during hibernation. We did not observe genotype associations between the detrended body condition index, representing fat reserves, and functional genes involved in fat metabolism. Bat body surface temperature, reflecting roost selection, or roost warmth relative to the climate at the site did not show any associations with the sampled genotypes. We found SNPs with associations to macroclimatic variables, characterising the hibernaculum, and blood biochemistry, related to the health of the bat. The genes in the proximity of the associated SNPs were involved in metabolism, immune response and signal transduction, including chaperones, apoptosis and autophagy regulators, and immune signaling molecules. The genetic adaptations included adaptation to tissue repair and protection against tissue damage.
Where microbes colonizing skin surface may help maintain organism homeostasis, those that invade living skin layers cause disease. In bats, white-nose syndrome is a fungal skin infection that affects animals during hibernation and may lead to mortality in severe cases. Here, we inferred the amount of fungus that had invaded skin tissue of diseased animals. We used simulations to estimate the unobserved disease severity in a non-lethal wing punch biopsy and to relate the simulated pathology to the measured fungal load in paired biopsies. We found that a single white-nose syndrome skin lesion packed with spores and hyphae of the causative agent, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, contains 48.93 pg of the pathogen DNA, which amounts to about 1560 P destructans genomes in one skin lesion. Relating the information to the known UV fluorescence in Nearctic and Palearctic bats shows that Nearctic bats carry about 1.7 µg of fungal DNA per cm², whereas Palearctic bats have 0.04 µg cm⁻² of P. destructans DNA. With the information on the fungal load that had invaded the host skin, the researchers can now calculate disease severity as a function of invasive fungal growth using non-destructive UV light transillumination of each batʼs wing membranes. Our results will enable and promote thorough disease severity assessment in protected bat species without the need for extensive animal and laboratory labor sacrifices.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans that is devastating to Nearctic bat populations but tolerated by Palearctic bats. Temperature is a factor known to be important for fungal growth and bat choice of hibernation. Here we investigated the effect of temperature on the pathogenic fungal growth in the wild across the Palearctic. We modelled body surface temperature of bats with respect to fungal infection intensity and disease severity and were able to relate this to the mean annual surface temperature at the site. Bats that hibernated at lower temperatures had less fungal growth and fewer skin lesions on their wings. Contrary to expectation derived from laboratory P. destructans culture experiments, natural infection intensity peaked between 5 and 6°C and decreased at warmer hibernating temperature. We made predictive maps based on bat species distributions, temperature and infection intensity and disease severity data to determine not only where P. destructans will be found but also where the infection will be invasive to bats across the Palearctic. Together these data highlight the mechanistic model of the interplay between environmental and biological factors, which determine progression in a wildlife disease.
While white-nose syndrome (WNS) has decimated hibernating bat populations in the Nearctic, species from the Palearctic appear to cope better with the fungal skin infection causing WNS. This has encouraged multiple hypotheses on the mechanisms leading to differential survival of species exposed to the same pathogen. To facilitate intercontinental comparisons, we proposed a novel pathogenesis-based grading scheme consistent with WNS diagnosis histopathology criteria. UV light-guided collection was used to obtain single biopsies from Nearctic and Palearctic bat wing membranes non-lethally. The proposed scheme scores eleven grades associated with WNS on histopathology. Given weights reflective of grade severity, the sum of findings from an individual results in weighted cumulative WNS pathology score. The probability of finding fungal skin colonisation and single, multiple or confluent cupping erosions increased with increase in Pseudogymnoascus destructans load. Increasing fungal load mimicked progression of skin infection from epidermal surface colonisation to deep dermal invasion. Similarly, the number of UV-fluorescent lesions increased with increasing weighted cumulative WNS pathology score, demonstrating congruence between WNS-associated tissue damage and extent of UV fluorescence. In a case report, we demonstrated that UV-fluorescence disappears within two weeks of euthermy. Change in fluorescence was coupled with a reduction in weighted cumulative WNS pathology score, whereby both methods lost diagnostic utility. While weighted cumulative WNS pathology scores were greater in the Nearctic than Palearctic, values for Nearctic bats were within the range of those for Palearctic species. Accumulation of wing damage probably influences mortality in affected bats, as demonstrated by a fatal case of Myotis daubentonii with natural WNS infection and healing in Myotis myotis. The proposed semi-quantitative pathology score provided good agreement between experienced raters, showing it to be a powerful and widely applicable tool for defining WNS severity.