The Insect Melanization Response in Galleria mellonella is Directly Fungicidal
A key component of insect immunity is melanin encapsulation of microbes. Melanization is also a part of an immune process known as nodulation, which occurs when insect hemocytes surround microbes and produce melanin. Insect nodules are analogous to mammalian immune granulomas. Melanin is believed to kill microbes through the production of toxic intermediates and oxidative damage. However, it is unclear to what extent immune melanin is directly fungicidal during infections of insect hosts. We reported previously that C. neoformans cells are encapsulated with host-derived melanin within hemocyte nodules. Here we report an association between melanin-based immune responses by Galleria mellonella wax moth larvae and fungal cell death of C. neoformans during infection. To monitor melanization in situ, we applied a tissue-clearing technique to G. mellonella larvae, revealing that nodulation occurs throughout the organism. Further, we developed a protocol for time-lapse microscopy of extracted hemolymph following exposure to fungal cells, which allowed us to visualize and quantify the kinetics of the melanin-based immune response. Using this technique, we found evidence that cryptococcal melanins and laccase enhance immune melanization in hemolymph. We used these techniques to also study the fungal pathogen Candida albicans infections of G. mellonella. We find that the yeast form of C. albicans was the primary targets of host melanization, while filamentous structures were melanin-evasive. Approximately 23% of melanin-encapsulated C. albicans yeast survive and break through the encapsulation. Overall, our results provide direct evidence that the melanization reaction functions as a direct antifungal mechanism in insect hosts.