Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link Skip directly to A-Z link
Volume 25, Number 9—September 2019
Research Letter

Characterization of Clinical Isolates of Talaromyces marneffei and Related Species, California, USA

Article Metrics
citations of this article
EID Journal Metrics on Scopus
Linlin Li, Katelyn Chen, Nirmala Dhungana, Yvonne Jang, Vishnu Chaturvedi1, and Ed Desmond2Comments to Author 
Author affiliations: California Department of Public Health, Richmond, California, USA

Cite This Article


Talaromyces marneffei and other Talaromyces species can cause opportunistic invasive fungal infections. We characterized clinical Talaromyces isolates from patients in California, USA, a non–Talaromyces-endemic area, by a multiphasic approach, including multigene phylogeny, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry, and phenotypic methods. We identified 10 potentially pathogenic Talaromyces isolates, 2 T. marneffei.

Talaromyces marneffei is a dimorphic fungal pathogen that causes focal or systemic infection in immunocompromised persons, primarily HIV-infected patients (1). Many cases have been reported in travelers returning from areas of Southeast Asia, southern China, and eastern India to which it is endemic. Other Talaromyces species also have been reported to cause invasive fungal infections, including T. amestolkiae (2), T. purpurogenus (3,4), and T. piceus (5,6). Talaromyces species are common in air, soil, and human habitats. Clinical laboratories in areas to which this fungus is not endemic often do not perform identification of T. marneffei and other Talaromyces species (2). Therefore, we devised a multiphasic approach for identifying T. marneffei and other potentially pathogenic Talaromyces species.

We conducted this study during 2018. Talaromyces isolates from 10 human specimens were submitted to the Microbial Diseases Laboratory (MDL), California Department of Public Health (Richmond, CA, USA), to rule out T. marneffei (Appendix). Temperature and pH are known to influence pigment production and colony morphology of Talaromyces species; therefore, growth characteristics were observed using 2 different culture media (Sabouraud dextrose agar, pH 5.6; and Sabouraud dextrose agar, Emmons, pH 6.9), incubated at 25°C and 30°C. Fungal DNA was extracted using a previously reported method (7). Talaromyces isolates were identified to species level using the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region, partial β-tubulin gene (BenA), and partial RNA polymerase II largest subunit gene (RPB1) (8). The ITS and partial BenA and RPB1 sequences were used to search for homologies in GenBank and CBS databases ( Multigene phylogenetic analysis was conducted on the concatenated ITS–BenA–RPB1 nucleotide sequence alignment (Appendix). A blastn search ( through the GenBank database, pairwise comparison alignment through the CBS database, or both showed 99%–100% homology for ITS, 97%–100% for BenA, and 91%–100% for RPB1 sequences with the best-matched sequences of known Talaromyces species isolates.


Thumbnail of Phylogenetic analysis of Talaromyces species based on concatenated nucleotide alignments of internal transcribed spacer, partial β-tubulin gene, and partial RNA polymerase II largest subunit gene regions, showing the relationship among clinical isolates from patients in California, USA (black squares), and reference Talaromyces species. The tree was constructed by the neighbor-joining method with 1,000 bootstrap replicates by using MEGA software ( Boots

Figure. Phylogenetic analysis of Talaromyces species based on concatenated nucleotide alignments of internal transcribed spacer, partial β-tubulin gene, and partial RNA polymerase II largest subunit gene regions, showing the relationship among clinical...

Phylogenetic analysis of the Talaromyces isolates showed 7 genetic clades, consistent with previous descriptions of the Talaromyces genera (9) (Figure). Species identification using a comparison of the ITS, BenA, and RPB1 sequences with existing sequences and multigene phylogenetic analysis identified T. marneffei (isolates MDL17022 and MDL18026), T. atroroseus (MDL17026, MDL17144, MDL17164, and MDL18070), T. islandicus (MDL18167), T. stollii (MDL18054), T. coalescens (MDL18102); and T. australis (MDL18159). The 2 T. marneffei isolates produced diffuse red pigment early, by 3 days of growth, on both medium types and at both incubation temperatures. T. australis and T. stollii isolates also produced red pigment by 3 days but with variations based on media or temperature. At 7 days of growth, the 4 T. atroroseus isolates also showed variable red pigment production (abundant, weak, and absent) (Appendix). Microscopically, most isolates showed biverticillate conidiophores and globose to fusiform conidia in unbranched chains. Both T. marneffei isolates were from HIV-positive patients. MDL17022 was from a blood sample of a 37-year-old man with a travel history to Southeast Asia; MDL18026 was from skin tissue of a 36-year-old man with no available travel history.

Using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionizationtime-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry, we generated main spectrum profiles (MSP) of Talaromyces species following Bruker’s custom MSP and library creation standard operating procedure ( We extracted proteins of Talaromyces isolates using the previously published National Institutes of Health (NIH) protocol (10). We analyzed Talaromyces spectra with MALDI Biotyper 4.1 software against combined databases of the Filamentous Fungi Library 2.0 (Bruker) and the NIH Mold Library (10), with and without inclusion of newly created MSPs of Talaromyces species (Appendix). The threshold for species identification was >1.9; for genus identification, >1.7.

Using the combined databases of Filamentous Fungi Library 2.0 (Bruker) and NIH Mold Library, we identified none of the isolates to species level; results showed either no identification or genus-level identification. However, when we expanded the combined database with the MDL Mold Library, we correctly identified all Talaromyces isolates to the species level with the best score >1.9. There were no ambiguous identification results; that is, the second-best matched species also had a high confidence score >1.9.

T. marneffei can be readily differentiated from other red pigment–producing Talaromyces species by yeast-like colony conversion at 37°C. However, many clinical laboratories no longer conduct yeast conversions. For those laboratories, yellow-green colonies producing red soluble pigment at ≈3 days on common fungal culture media at 25°C–30°C might indicate the need to further confirm T. marneffei. It is difficult to distinguish Talaromyces species only by macroscopic and microscopic examination. Multilocus sequencing, although confirmatory, might be too time-consuming and expensive for routine use. Therefore, we identified all Talaromyces isolates to species level by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry by using an expanded database with well-characterized Talaromyces strains.

In conclusion, our results show that MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry is a good choice for rapid, less expensive primary identification of Talaromyces species and other medically important fungal pathogens. Species-level identification of Talaromyces isolates is clinically useful for treatment of patients with underlying conditions, such as immunodeficiency, cancer, advanced age, and immunosuppressive therapy.

Dr. Li is a research scientist and a certified public health microbiologist at the Microbial Diseases Laboratory, California Department of Public Health. Her primary research interests include molecular diagnosis of mycotic diseases, Valley fever, candidemia, antifungal susceptibility testing, mycobacteriology, metagenomics, and next-generation sequencing.



We thank Zenda Berrada for her support and helpful suggestions on this study.

The Microbial Diseases Laboratory at the California Department of Public Health provided funding for this study.



  1. Ustianowski  AP, Sieu  TP, Day  JN. Penicillium marneffei infection in HIV. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2008;21:316. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Villanueva-Lozano  H, Treviño-Rangel  RJ, Renpenning-Carrasco  EW, González  GM. Successful treatment of Talaromyces amestolkiae pulmonary infection with voriconazole in an acute lymphoblastic leukemia patient. J Infect Chemother. 2017;23:4002. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Atalay  A, Koc  AN, Akyol  G, Cakir  N, Kaynar  L, Ulu-Kilic  A. Pulmonary infection caused by Talaromyces purpurogenus in a patient with multiple myeloma. Infez Med. 2016;24:1537.
  4. Lyratzopoulos  G, Ellis  M, Nerringer  R, Denning  DW. Invasive infection due to penicillium species other than P. marneffei. J Infect. 2002;45:18495. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Santos  PE, Piontelli  E, Shea  YR, Galluzzo  ML, Holland  SM, Zelazko  ME, et al. Penicillium piceum infection: diagnosis and successful treatment in chronic granulomatous disease. Med Mycol. 2006;44:74953. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Horré  R, Gilges  S, Breig  P, Kupfer  B, de Hoog  GS, Hoekstra  E, et al. Case report. Fungaemia due to Penicillium piceum, a member of the Penicillium marneffei complex. Mycoses. 2001;44:5024. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Romanelli  AM, Fu  J, Herrera  ML, Wickes  BL. A universal DNA extraction and PCR amplification method for fungal rDNA sequence-based identification. Mycoses. 2014;57:61222. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Samson  RA, Yilmaz  N, Houbraken  J, Spierenburg  H, Seifert  KA, Peterson  SW, et al. Phylogeny and nomenclature of the genus Talaromyces and taxa accommodated in Penicillium subgenus Biverticillium. Stud Mycol. 2011;70:15983. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Yilmaz  N, Visagie  CM, Houbraken  J, Frisvad  JC, Samson  RA. Polyphasic taxonomy of the genus Talaromyces. Stud Mycol. 2014;78:175341. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Lau  AF, Drake  SK, Calhoun  LB, Henderson  CM, Zelazny  AM. Development of a clinically comprehensive database and a simple procedure for identification of molds from solid media by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry. J Clin Microbiol. 2013;51:82834. DOIPubMedGoogle Scholar




Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid2509.190380

Original Publication Date: July 30, 2019

1Current affiliation: New York State Department of Health, Albany, New York, USA.

2Current affiliation: Hawaii State Department of Health, Pearl City, Hawaii, USA.

Table of Contents – Volume 25, Number 9—September 2019

EID Search Options
presentation_01 Advanced Article Search – Search articles by author and/or keyword.
presentation_01 Articles by Country Search – Search articles by the topic country.
presentation_01 Article Type Search – Search articles by article type and issue.



Please use the form below to submit correspondence to the authors or contact them at the following address:

Ed Desmond, State Laboratories Division, Hawaii State Department of Health, 2725 Waimano Home Rd, Pearl City, HI 96782, USA

Send To

10000 character(s) remaining.


Page created: August 21, 2019
Page updated: August 21, 2019
Page reviewed: August 21, 2019
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.