Vol.2, No.7, 726-731 (2010) Natural Science
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Review on dermatomycosis: pathogenesis and
Deepika T. Lakshmipathy, Krishnan Kannabiran*
Division of Biomolecules and Genetics,School of Biosciences and Technology, VIT University, Vellore, India;
*Corresponding Author: kkb@vit.ac.in
Received 24 February 2010; revised 25 March 2010; accepted 3 April 2010.
Dermatophytes, a group of keratinophilic fungi
thriving on the keratin substrate are the etio-
logical agents responsible for causing cutane-
ous infections. Dermatophytosis is currently
treated with the commercially available topical
and oral antifungal agents in spite of the exist-
ing side effects. Treatment of these cutaneous
infections with secondary metabolites produced
by marine microorganisms is considered as a
novel approach. For many years these organ-
isms have been explored with the view of de-
veloping antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-
cancer and antiparasitic drugs. Exploring the
unexplored aspect of actinobacteria for devel-
oping antidermatophytic drugs is a novel at-
tempt which needs further investigation.
Keywords: Trichophyton; Microsporum;
Epidermophyton; Tinea Infections; Novel
Approach; Actinobacteria
1.1. Dermatophytes
Infections pertaining to mankind particularly those af-
fecting the keratinized tissues are of serious concerns
worldwide and are increasing on a global scale. Derma-
tomycoses are infections of the skin, hair and nail caused
as a result of colonization of the keratinized layers of the
body. This colonization is brought about by the organ-
isms belonging to the three genera namely Trichophyton,
Microsporum and Epidermophyton [1,2]. Infection may
also be caused rarely by the members of the genus Can-
dida and by non-dermatophytic moulds belonging to the
genera Fusari um, Scopulariopsis and Aspergillus [3,4].
Interestingly dermatophytic infections are predominant
in the tropical and subtropical countries; especially in the
developing countries like India where the hot climate
and humid weather is favourable to the acquisition and
maintenance of the disease [5,6] and currently no race is
totally free from dermatophytoses.
In the course of evolution these pathogens have devel-
oped host specificity. This host specificity is ascribed to
the difference in the composition of keratin [7]. Based
on their host specificity dermatophytes are classified into
three ecological groups namely geophiles (soil), an thro-
pophiles (man) and zoophiles (animals) [8]. The geo-
philic dermatophytes are generally saprophytic and de-
rive nutrients from keratinous substrates. Rarely these
pathogens cause infection in animals and man. Examples
include Trichophyton ajelloi, Trichophyton terrestre,
Microsporum fulvum, Micropsorum gypseum, Micro-
sporum cookie and Epidermophyton stockdaleae [9-11].
Zoophiles are pathogens with only one animal host
and grow as saprophytes on animal materials. Zoophiles
are also reported to infect human beings. Human beings
acquire the infection from infected animals. Examples
include Trichophyton simii (monkeys), Trichophyton
mentagrophytes (rodents), Trichophyton equinum (hor-
ses), Microsporum canis (cats) and Micropsorum nan-
num (pigs) [12,13].
The primary hosts of anthropophilic species are hu-
man beings but they may also cause infection in animals.
Transmission of infection is from man to man. Examples
include Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton kanei,
Trichophyton schoenleini, Trichophyton concentricum,
Trichophyton tonsurans, Micropsorum gypseum, audou-
inii, Microsporum ferrugineum and Epidermophyton
floccosum [14,15].
2.1. Trichophyton
The genus Trichophyton includes 24 species. The colo-
nies on agar media are powdery, velvety or waxy. The
predominant spore type is micro conidia with sparse
D. T. Lakshmipathy et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 726-731
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
macro conidia [16]. Reverse side pigmentation is char-
acteristic of the species and is used for the identification
of the species within the genus [17,18]. The macro co-
nidia are thin walled with smooth surface and variable
shape [19]. Some of the Trichophyton species are fas-
tidious in their requirement for amino acid as nitrogen
source. Trichophyton tonsurans requires ornithine,
citrul-line and Arginine whereas Trichophyton men-
tagrophytes requires methionine. This nutritional speci-
ficity has been used by many authors in the identifica-
tion of the Trichoph yton species [19].
2.2. Microsporum
The genus Microsporum includes 16 species. The colony
morphology of Microsporum species on agar surface is
either velvety or powdery with white to brown pigmen-
tation [16]. Both macro and micro conidia are produced
but the predominant conidial structures are macro co-
nidia. Micro conidia are less abundant. The macro co-
nidia are multi septate with thick wall and rough surface
[20]. Rarely some species produce neither micro nor
macro conidia [21]. They do not have any special nutri-
tional requirements.
2.3. Epidermophyton
The genus Epidermophyton includes only 2 species. The
colonies are slow-growing, powdery and unique brow-
nish yellow in colour. This genus is devoid of micro co-
nidia. Macro conidia are abundant and produced in clus-
ters [16]. These macro conidia are thin walled with
smooth surface [20].
All the three genera of dermatophytes namely Tricho-
phyton, Microsporum and Epidermophyton are world-
wide in geographical distribution. The predominant
cause of dermatophytic infections is Trichophyton fol-
lowed by Epidermophyton and Microsporum. Within the
genus Trichophyton, Trichophyton rubrum is the pre-
dominant etiological agent accounting for 69.5% fol-
lowed by Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Trichophyton
verrucosum and Trichophyton tonsurans [22-24].
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)
survey on the incidence of dermatophytic infection,
about 20% the people world wide present with cutaneous
infections [25]. The disease does not spare people of any
age [26]. Among the tinea infections the most predomi-
nant type of infection is tinea corporis or tinea circinata
followed by tinea cruris, tinea pedis and Onychomycosis.
Tinea corporis accounts for about 70% of the dermato-
phytic infection [26].
The possible route of entry for the dermatophytes into
the host body is injured skin, scars and burns. Infection
is caused by arthrospores or conidia. Resting hairs lack
the essential nutrient required for the growth of the or-
ganism. Hence these hairs are not invaded during the
process of infection [27]. The pathogen invades the up-
permost, non-living, keratinized layer of the skin namely
the stratum corneum, produces exo-enzyme keratinase
and induces inflammatory reaction at the site of infection
[28-31]. The customary signs of inflammatory reactions
such as redness (ruber), swelling (induration), heat and
alopecia (loss of hair) are seen at the infection site. In-
flammation causes the pathogen to move away from the
site of infection and take residence at a new site. This
movement of the organism away from the infection site
produces the classical ringed lesion [32] (Figure 1).
The infections caused by dermatophytes are com-
monly referred to as “tinea” or “ring-worm” infections
due to the characteristic ringed lesions [33]. Based on
the site of infection the tinea infections are referred to as
tinea capitis (scalp), tinea corporis or tinea circinata
(non-hairy, glaborous region of the body), tinea pedis
(“Athletes’ foot”; foot), tinea ungium (“Onychomy cosi s”;
nail), tinea mannum (hands), tinea barbae (“Barbers’
itch”; bearded region of face and neck), tinea incognito
(steroid modified), tinea imbricata (modified form of
Figure 1. The schematic route of entry of dermatophytes into
the host system and onset of immune response in the host in
response to the pathogen entry.
D. T. Lakshmipathy et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 726-731
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
tinea corporis), tinea gladiatorium (common among
wrestlers’) and tinea cruris (“Jocks’ itch”; groin) [34].
Host immune response to the invading pathogen is re-
sponsible for the clinical manifestations. The fungal
pathogens induce both immediate hypersensitivity as
well as cell mediated or delayed type hypersensitivity.
Acquired resistance to the infection may also result from
dermatophytic infection. The fungal growth is restricted
by the inflammatory reactions produced as a result of
infection with dermatophytes [35].
Despite the advancements of science and technology,
surprisingly the development of novel and efficient an-
tifungal drugs is still lagging behind due to the very fact
that fungi are also eukaryotic and have mechanisms
similar to human beings [36]. Hence it becomes very
difficult to develop an antifungal agent that is more spe-
cific in targeting the fungi alone without any damage to
human beings. For successful treatment of the disease,
proper diagnosis of the disease is always essential.
The treatment is chosen based on the infection site,
etiological agent and penetration ability of the drug. The
penetration ability and retention in the site of infection
of the agent determines its efficacy and frequency of
utility. Since the dermatophytes reside in the stratum
corneum especially within the keratinocytes, the anti-
fungal agents should have a good penetrating ability. The
duration of treatment mainly depends on the type of in-
fection and symptom. Generally a two-three week treat-
ment is required for skin lesions whereas four-six week
for feet inflammation [37].
Earlier, dermatomycosis was treated with the tradi-
tional topical antifungal agent Whitfield’s ointment, a
combination of 3% salicylic acid and 6% benzoic acid in
a Vaseline base [38]. Next came into existence, Castel-
lani’s paint, a deep red coloured liquid, specifically ef-
fective against tinea ungium. Another topical preparation
of importance was a combination of silver nitrate and
tincture iodine. This preparation was effective against
multiple lesions [39]. In general the dosage depends on
the severity of infection, location and the efficacy of the
drug. These topical preparations were applied twice a
day for 2-3 weeks to prevent relapse condition. In addi-
tion to the above mentioned topical agents, tolnaftate,
undecylenic acid, haloprogin, triacetin were in use for
the treatment of dermatophytosis [39]. The year 1970
saw the release of Miconazole, the first in the line of
azoles group. Since then many more were subsequently
synthesized and added to this list during the same period.
These antimycotic drugs belonged to the Azoles class of
antifungal drugs. The major target of the azoles unlike
the other antifungal agents is the cytochrome P450 en-
zyme [40] (Figure 2). Based on the number of nitrogen
atoms the azoles derivatives are classified into 2 groups
as imidazoles and triazoles [16].
Imidazoles include miconazole (1970), clotrimazole,
ketaconazole (1978), econazole, bifonazole, tioconazole
and oxiconazole [41]. The chronological order of the
imidazoles to get FDA approval in United States is as
follows miconazole (1974), econazole (1982), keta-
conazole (1985), oxiconazole (1988) and clotrimazole
(1993) [42]. The most recent drug to clear the FDA trials
(2003) is Sertaconazole, a novel imidazole with broad
spectrum antifungal activity [43]. In general the imida-
zoles exhibit side effects such as anorexia, constipation,
headache, hepatitis, pruritis, exanthema and inhibition of
synthesis of steroid hormone [44]. Triazoles include flu-
conazole, voriconazole, itraconazole (1980), posacona-
zole, teraconazole and ravuconazole. In comparison to
the imidazoles, the triazoles exhibit lesser degree of side
effects which includes nausea, dizziness and gastrointes-
tinal upset [45]. Allylamines and benzyl amines were
synthesized in the 1980s’. Allylamines include naftifine
and terbinafine. Naftifine, terbinafine and benzylamine
obtained FDA approval in United States in the year 1988,
1992 and 2001, respectively. The mode of action of these
drugs is inhibition of the key enzyme squalene epoxidase,
an essential enzyme involved in the synthesis of squa-
lene epoxide from squalene [46] (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Schematic representation of the site of action
of azoles, allylamines and benzyl amines.
D. T. Lakshmipathy et al. / Natural Science 2 (2010) 726-731
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
Amorolfine, a morpholine drug targets the ergosterol
synthesis similar to the azoles but at a site different from
that of the azoles [47]. A new class of antifungal drug
called hydroxypyridones became available since the year
2000. Ciclopiroxolamine, the representative drug of this
class targets the cell membrane and affects the cell per-
meability. Apart from the above mentioned synthetic
drugs many drugs such as Pyrrolo [1,2-a] [1,4] benzodi-
azepine with less side effects are being synthesized and
experimented for treating dermatophytosis [48]. Griseo-
fulvin, from Penicillium chrysogenum was isolated in
1930. Its antibacterial and antifungal potential was not
fully understood until late 1950s’. It is the first antimy-
cotic drug with a microbial origin [49]. Griseofulvin is a
narrow spectrum antimycotic drug with fungistatic ac-
tivity. It is very effective against all the dermatomycoses.
The side effects include headache, nausea, bad taste, skin
rash, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), porphyria and
arthralgia. With all its side effects, griseofulvin still re-
mains to be the gold-standard for treating dermatophytic
infections [50]. Treatment of cutaneous infection using
natural sources is the ongoing research work of many
research groups across the globe. Compounds from the
plants Psorolea corylifolia [51], Azadirachta indica [52],
Melaleuca alternifolia, Melaleuca dissitiflora, Me-
laleuca linariifolia [53], Nandina domestica [54], Didis-
cus oxeata [55] have been reported to exhibit potential
anti-dermatophytic activity. Further confirmation on the
activity of these compounds is under investigation.
More recently the scientific community has turned its
attention to secondary metabolites from actinobacteria
and its exploitation for various purposes which include
therapeutic, environmental and industrial applications.
With developing microbial resistance and need for safe
and cost-effective antidermatophytic drugs, screening of
actinobacteria for potential bioactive secondary metabo-
lites becomes indispensible [56]. About 75-80% of the
antibiotics that are available in the market are derived
from Streptomyces [57]. To the best of our knowledge
antidermatophytic secondary metabolite from Strepto-
myces rochei AK39 is the first report on antidermato-
phytic activity of actinobacteria [58]. Our investigation
on the antidermatophytic activity of Streptomyces spp
isolated from the saltpan region yielded three potential
strains. The morphological, physiological and bioche-
mical properties of these three potential isolates namely
VITDDK1, VITDDK2 and VITDDK3 have been studied
and reported [56,57]. The 16 S rRNA sequence of three
strains Streptomyces spp. VITDDK1, Streptomyces spp.
VITDDK2 and Streptomyces spp. VITDDK3 was sub-
mitted to the GenBank, NCBI under the accession num-
bers, GU223091, GU223092 and GU223093 respec-
tively. The antidermatophytic activity of these three
strains is anticipated to be due to high salt concentration
of the environment. Under stress conditions microorgan-
isms inhabiting the particular environment is said to
produce complex chemicals that can be exploited med-
The management of dermatophytic infections needs
personal hygiene, awareness of infection, proper diagno-
sis and medication. At present there are a large number
of antidermatophytic drugs available commercially. With
increasing incidence of fungal infection, microbial resis-
tance to the existing drugs, cost and side effects, there is
a need for an antifungal drug that can overcome all these
limitations. Streptomyces remains to be an unexhausted
source of bioactive compounds and a boon to the medi-
cal field. Screening of Streptomyces from stressed envi-
ronment can be a novel approach for obtaining potential
lead molecules for clinical trials and later treatment of
The authors wish to thank the management of VIT University for pro-
viding the facilities to carry out this study and the International Foun-
dation for Science (IFS, F 4185-1), Sweden and the Organization for
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), The Hague to one of
the author (KK) for providing financial support.
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