Cryptococcocal Meningitis


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Micrograph of circles with rings around them.
An India ink-negative stain of C. neoformans showing the thick capsules around the spherical yeast cells. (credit: modification of work by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

OpenStax Microbiology

Cryptococcus neoformans is a fungal pathogen that can cause meningitis. This yeast is commonly found in soils and is particularly associated with pigeon droppings. It has a thick capsule that serves as an important virulence factor, inhibiting clearance by phagocytosis. Most C. neoformans cases result in subclinical respiratory infections that, in healthy individuals, generally resolve spontaneously with no long-term consequences. In immunocompromised patients or those with other underlying illnesses, the infection can progress to cause meningitis and granuloma formation in brain tissues. Cryptococcus  antigens can also serve to inhibit cell-mediated immunity and delayed-type hypersensitivity.

Cryptococcus can be easily cultured in the laboratory and identified based on its extensive capsule. C. neoformans is frequently cultured from urine samples of patients with disseminated infections.

Prolonged treatment with antifungal drugs is required to treat cryptococcal infections. Combined therapy is required with amphotericin B plus flucytosine for at least 10 weeks. Many antifungal drugs have difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier and have strong side effects that necessitate low doses; these factors contribute to the lengthy time of treatment. Patients with AIDS are particularly susceptible to Cryptococcus infections because of their compromised immune state. AIDS patients with cryptococcosis can also be treated with antifungal drugs, but they often have relapses; lifelong doses of fluconazole may be necessary to prevent reinfection.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: