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1.  Surface Diversity in Mycoplasma agalactiae Is Driven by Site-Specific DNA Inversions within the vpma Multigene Locus 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(21):5987-5998.
The ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae possesses a family of abundantly expressed variable surface lipoproteins called Vpmas. Phenotypic switches between Vpma members have previously been correlated with DNA rearrangements within a locus of vpma genes and are proposed to play an important role in disease pathogenesis. In this study, six vpma genes were characterized in the M. agalactiae type strain PG2. All vpma genes clustered within an 8-kb region and shared highly conserved 5′ untranslated regions, lipoprotein signal sequences, and short N-terminal sequences. Analyses of the vpma loci from consecutive clonal isolates showed that vpma DNA rearrangements were site specific and that cleavage and strand exchange occurred within a minimal region of 21 bp located within the 5′ untranslated region of all vpma genes. This process controlled expression of vpma genes by effectively linking the open reading frame (ORF) of a silent gene to a unique active promoter sequence within the locus. An ORF (xer1) immediately adjacent to one end of the vpma locus did not undergo rearrangement and had significant homology to a distinct subset of genes belonging to the λ integrase family of site-specific xer recombinases. It is proposed that xer1 codes for a site-specific recombinase that is not involved in chromosome dimer resolution but rather is responsible for the observed vpma-specific recombination in M. agalactiae.
PMCID: PMC135373  PMID: 12374833
2.  Xer1-Mediated Site-Specific DNA Inversions and Excisions in Mycoplasma agalactiae▿ ‡  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(17):4462-4473.
Surface antigen variation in Mycoplasma agalactiae, the etiologic agent of contagious agalactia in sheep and goats, is governed by site-specific recombination within the vpma multigene locus encoding the Vpma family of variable surface lipoproteins. This high-frequency Vpma phase switching was previously shown to be mediated by a Xer1 recombinase encoded adjacent to the vpma locus. In this study, it was demonstrated in Escherichia coli that the Xer1 recombinase is responsible for catalyzing vpma gene inversions between recombination sites (RS) located in the 5′-untranslated region (UTR) in all six vpma genes, causing cleavage and strand exchange within a 21-bp conserved region that serves as a recognition sequence. It was further shown that the outcome of the site-specific recombination event depends on the orientation of the two vpma RS, as direct or inverted repeats. While recombination between inverted vpma RS led to inversions, recombination between direct repeat vpma RS led to excisions. Using a newly developed excision assay based on the lacZ reporter system, we were able to successfully demonstrate under native conditions that such Xer1-mediated excisions can indeed also occur in the M. agalactiae type strain PG2, whereas they were not observed in the control xer1-disrupted VpmaY phase-locked mutant (PLMY), which lacks Xer1 recombinase. Unless there are specific regulatory mechanisms preventing such excisions, this might be the cost that the pathogen has to render at the population level for maintaining this high-frequency phase variation machinery.
PMCID: PMC2937384  PMID: 20562305
3.  Phase-locked mutants of Mycoplasma agalactiae: defining the molecular switch of high-frequency Vpma antigenic variation 
Molecular Microbiology  2008;67(6):1196-1210.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits antigenic diversity by switching the expression of multiple surface lipoproteins called Vpmas (Variable proteins of M. agalactiae). Although phase variation has been shown to play important roles in many host–pathogen interactions, the biological significance and the mechanism of Vpma oscillations remain largely unclear. Here, we demonstrate that all six Vpma proteins are expressed in the type strain PG2 and all undergo phase variation at an unusually high frequency. Furthermore, targeted gene disruption of the xer1 gene encoding a putative site-specific recombinase adjacent to the vpma locus was accomplished via homologous recombination using a replicon-based vector. Inactivation of xer1 abolished further Vpma switching and the ‘phase-locked’ mutants (PLMs) continued to steadily express only a single Vpma product. Complementation of the wild-type xer1 gene in PLMs restored Vpma phase variation thereby proving that Xer1 is essential for vpma inversions. The study is not only instrumental in enhancing our ability to understand the role of Vpmas in M. agalactiae infections but also provides useful molecular approaches to study potential disease factors in other ‘difficult-to-manipulate’ mycoplasmas.
PMCID: PMC2268961  PMID: 18248580
4.  Characterization of a Multigene Family Undergoing High-Frequency DNA Rearrangements and Coding for Abundant Variable Surface Proteins in Mycoplasma agalactiae 
Infection and Immunity  2000;68(8):4539-4548.
A family of abundant surface proteins (Vpmas [variable proteins of Mycoplasma agalactiae]) undergoing phase variation in M. agalactiae has been characterized using monoclonal antibodies and specific polyclonal sera. Two expressed members of 39 kDa (Vpma39) and 34 kDa (Vpma34), which varied in expression between clones of a lineage, shared a common amino-terminal sequence but were immunologically distinct. An amino-terminal oligonucleotide probe identified multiple vpma genes which were clustered within a 14-kb ClaI genomic fragment. Rearrangements were found to have occurred within the vpma locus between clones which correlated with changes in their Vpma phenotype. Two neighboring vpma genes were cloned and sequenced from one M. agalactiae clonal variant expressing Vpma39. The two genes, vpmaX and vpmaY, were orientated divergently and shared highly homologous 5′ untranslated regions, 25-amino-acid (aa) lipoprotein leader sequences, and amino-terminal sequences. The vpmaY gene coded for 346 aa and 84% of the open reading frame, comprised of 1.5 units of a large repeat of 186 aa. Although the sequence for an entire second vpmaY repeat was present, it was prematurely terminated by insertion of two nucleotides. The vpmaX gene encoded 221 aa and possessed 102 aa of the 186-aa repeat of vpmaY. Many of the features in common between the vpma genes were also found to be shared by the vsp genes of M. bovis, which also undergo DNA rearrangements concomitant with phenotypic changes. Since M. bovis is the closest phylogenetic relative to M. agalactiae, the vpma and vsp gene families most probably represent homologous systems.
PMCID: PMC98368  PMID: 10899853
5.  Role of Vpma phase variation in Mycoplasma agalactiae pathogenesis 
Compared with other bacterial pathogens, the molecular mechanisms of mycoplasma pathogenicity are largely unknown. Several studies in the past have shown that pathogenic mycoplasmas are equipped with sophisticated genetic systems that allow them to undergo high-frequency surface antigenic variations. Although never clearly proven, these variable mycoplasma surface components are often implicated in host immune evasion and adaptation. Vpma surface lipoproteins of the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae are encoded on a genomic pathogenicity island–like locus and are considered as one of the well-characterized model systems of mycoplasma surface antigenic variation. The present study assesses the role of these phase-variable Vpmas in the molecular pathogenesis of M. agalactiae by testing the wild-type strain PG2 in comparison with the xer1-disrupted Vpma ‘phase-locked’ mutants in sheep infection models. The data clearly illustrate that although Xer1 recombinase is not a virulence factor of M. agalactiae and Vpma phase variation is not necessary for establishing an infection, it might critically influence the survival and persistence of the pathogen under natural field conditions, mainly due to a better capacity for dissemination and evoking systemic responses. This is the first study where mycoplasma ‘phase-locked’ mutants are tested in vivo to elucidate the role of phase variation during infection.
PMCID: PMC4510919  PMID: 22809092
Mycoplasma agalactiae; phase variation; variable surface lipoproteins; Vpma; phase-locked mutants; mastitis
6.  Molecular Cloning and Characterization of a Surface-Localized Adhesion Protein in Mycoplasma bovis Hubei-1 Strain 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69644.
Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) is an important pathogen that causes various bovine diseases, such as mastitis in cows and pneumonia in calves. The surface proteins are generally thought to play a central role in the pathogenesis of this organism. We screened the entire genome of M. bovis Hubei-1 and discovered a gene named vpmaX that encodes the 25 kDa variable surface lipoprotein A (VpmaX). Sequence analysis revealed that VpmaX contains several repetitive units and a typical bacterial lipoprotein signal sequence. The vpmaX gene was cloned and expressed in E. coli to obtain recombinant VpmaX (rVpmaX). Western blot analysis using a rabbit antibody against rVpmaX demonstrated that VpmaX is a membrane protein. Immunostaining visualized via confocal laser scanning microscopy showed that rVpmaX was able to adhere to embryonic bovine lung cells (EBL), and this was also confirmed by a sandwich ELISA. In summary, a surface-localized adhesion protein was identified in M. bovis Hubei-1.
PMCID: PMC3720590  PMID: 23936063
7.  Experimental Infections with Mycoplasma agalactiae Identify Key Factors Involved in Host-Colonization 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93970.
Mechanisms underlying pathogenic processes in mycoplasma infections are poorly understood, mainly because of limited sequence similarities with classical, bacterial virulence factors. Recently, large-scale transposon mutagenesis in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae identified the NIF locus, including nifS and nifU, as essential for mycoplasma growth in cell culture, while dispensable in axenic media. To evaluate the importance of this locus in vivo, the infectivity of two knock-out mutants was tested upon experimental infection in the natural host. In this model, the parental PG2 strain was able to establish a systemic infection in lactating ewes, colonizing various body sites such as lymph nodes and the mammary gland, even when inoculated at low doses. In these PG2-infected ewes, we observed over the course of infection (i) the development of a specific antibody response and (ii) dynamic changes in expression of M. agalactiae surface variable proteins (Vpma), with multiple Vpma profiles co-existing in the same animal. In contrast and despite a sensitive model, none of the knock-out mutants were able to survive and colonize the host. The extreme avirulent phenotype of the two mutants was further supported by the absence of an IgG response in inoculated animals. The exact role of the NIF locus remains to be elucidated but these data demonstrate that it plays a key role in the infectious process of M. agalactiae and most likely of other pathogenic mycoplasma species as many carry closely related homologs.
PMCID: PMC3974822  PMID: 24699671
8.  Comparative genomic and proteomic analyses of two Mycoplasma agalactiae strains: clues to the macro- and micro-events that are shaping mycoplasma diversity 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:86.
While the genomic era is accumulating a tremendous amount of data, the question of how genomics can describe a bacterial species remains to be fully addressed. The recent sequencing of the genome of the Mycoplasma agalactiae type strain has challenged our general view on mycoplasmas by suggesting that these simple bacteria are able to exchange significant amount of genetic material via horizontal gene transfer. Yet, events that are shaping mycoplasma genomes and that are underlining diversity within this species have to be fully evaluated. For this purpose, we compared two strains that are representative of the genetic spectrum encountered in this species: the type strain PG2 which genome is already available and a field strain, 5632, which was fully sequenced and annotated in this study.
The two genomes differ by ca. 130 kbp with that of 5632 being the largest (1006 kbp). The make up of this additional genetic material mainly corresponds (i) to mobile genetic elements and (ii) to expanded repertoire of gene families that encode putative surface proteins and display features of highly-variable systems. More specifically, three entire copies of a previously described integrative conjugative element are found in 5632 that accounts for ca. 80 kbp. Other mobile genetic elements, found in 5632 but not in PG2, are the more classical insertion sequences which are related to those found in two other ruminant pathogens, M. bovis and M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC. In 5632, repertoires of gene families encoding surface proteins are larger due to gene duplication. Comparative proteomic analyses of the two strains indicate that the additional coding capacity of 5632 affects the overall architecture of the surface and suggests the occurrence of new phase variable systems based on single nucleotide polymorphisms.
Overall, comparative analyses of two M. agalactiae strains revealed a very dynamic genome which structure has been shaped by gene flow among ruminant mycoplasmas and expansion-reduction of gene repertoires encoding surface proteins, the expression of which is driven by localized genetic micro-events.
PMCID: PMC2824730  PMID: 20122262
9.  Disruption of the pdhB Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Gene Affects Colony Morphology, In Vitro Growth and Cell Invasiveness of Mycoplasma agalactiae 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119706.
The utilization of available substrates, the metabolic potential and the growth rates of bacteria can play significant roles in their pathogenicity. This study concentrates on Mycoplasma agalactiae, which causes significant economic losses through its contribution to contagious agalactia in small ruminants by as yet unknown mechanisms. This lack of knowledge is primarily due to its fastidious growth requirements and the scarcity of genetic tools available for its manipulation and analysis. Transposon mutagenesis of M. agalactiae type strain PG2 resulted in several disruptions throughout the genome. A mutant defective in growth in vitro was found to have a transposon insertion in the pdhB gene, which encodes a component of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex. This growth difference was quite significant during the actively dividing logarithmic phase but a gradual recovery was observed as the cells approached stationary phase. The mutant also exhibited a different and smaller colony morphology compared to the wild type strain PG2. For complementation, pdhAB was cloned downstream of a strong vpma promoter and upstream of a lacZ reporter gene in a newly constructed complementation vector. When transformed with this vector the pdhB mutant recovered its normal growth and colony morphology. Interestingly, the pdhB mutant also had significantly reduced invasiveness in HeLa cells, as revealed by double immunofluorescence staining. This deficiency was recovered in the complemented strain, which had invasiveness comparable to that of PG2. Taken together, these data indicate that pyruvate dehydrogenase might be an important player in infection with and colonization by M. agalactiae.
PMCID: PMC4370745  PMID: 25799063
10.  Unexpected genetic diversity of Mycoplasma agalactiae caprine isolates from an endemic geographically restricted area of Spain 
The genetic diversity of Mycoplasma agalactiae (MA) isolates collected in Spain from goats in an area with contagious agalactia (CA) was assessed using a set of validated and new molecular typing methods. Validated methods included pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) typing, and Southern blot hybridization using a set of MA DNA probes, including those for typing the vpma genes repertoire. New approaches were based on PCR and targeted genomic regions that diverged between strains as defined by in silico genomic comparisons of sequenced MA genomes.
Overall, the data showed that all typing tools yielded consistent results, with the VNTR analyses being the most rapid method to differentiate the MA isolates with a discriminatory ability comparable to that of PFGE and of a set of new PCR assays. All molecular typing approaches indicated that the Spanish isolates from the endemic area in Murcia were very diverse, with different clonal isolates probably restricted to separate, but geographically close, local areas.
The important genetic diversity of MA observed in infected goats from Spain contrasts with the overall homogeneity of the genomic background encountered in MA from sheep with CA in Southern France or Italy, suggesting that assessment of the disease status in endemic areas may require different approaches in sheep and in goats. A number of congruent sub-typing tools are now available for the differentiation of caprine isolates with comparable discriminatory powers.
PMCID: PMC3514313  PMID: 22920649
Mycoplasma agalactiae; Molecular typing; Contagious agalactia; Goats
11.  Variable Lipoprotein Genes of Mycoplasma agalactiae Are Activated In Vivo by Promoter Addition via Site-Specific DNA Inversions  
Infection and Immunity  2003;71(7):3821-3830.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, the etiological agent of contagious agalactia of small ruminants, has a family of related genes (avg genes) which encode surface lipoprotein antigens that undergo phase variation. A series of 13 M. agalactiae clonal isolates, obtained from one chronically infected animal over a period of 7 months, were found to undergo major rearrangement events within the avg genomic locus. We show that these rearrangements regulate the phase-variable expression of individual avg genes. Northern blot analysis and reverse transcription-PCR showed that only one avg gene is transcribed, while the other avg genes are transcriptionally silent. Sequence analysis and primer extension experiments with two M. agalactiae clonal isolates showed that a specific 182-bp avg 5′ upstream region (avg-B2) that is present as a single chromosomal copy serves as an active promoter and exhibits a high level of homology with the vsp promoter of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis. PCR analysis showed that each avg gene is associated with the avg-B2 promoter in a subpopulation of cells that is present in each subclone. Multiple sequence-specific sites for DNA recombination (vis-like), which are presumably recognized by site-specific recombinase, were identified within the conserved avg 5′ upstream regions of all avg genes and were found to be identical to the recombination sites of the M. bovis vsp locus. In addition, a gene encoding a member of the integrase family of tyrosine site-specific recombinases was identified adjacent to the variable avg locus. The molecular genetic basis for avg phase-variable expression appears to be mediated by site-specific DNA inversions occurring in vivo that allow activation of a silent avg gene by promoter addition. A model for the control of avg genes is proposed.
PMCID: PMC162021  PMID: 12819065
12.  Being Pathogenic, Plastic, and Sexual while Living with a Nearly Minimal Bacterial Genome 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(5):e75.
Mycoplasmas are commonly described as the simplest self-replicating organisms, whose evolution was mainly characterized by genome downsizing with a proposed evolutionary scenario similar to that of obligate intracellular bacteria such as insect endosymbionts. Thus far, analysis of mycoplasma genomes indicates a low level of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) implying that DNA acquisition is strongly limited in these minimal bacteria. In this study, the genome of the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae was sequenced. Comparative genomic data and phylogenetic tree reconstruction revealed that ∼18% of its small genome (877,438 bp) has undergone HGT with the phylogenetically distinct mycoides cluster, which is composed of significant ruminant pathogens. HGT involves genes often found as clusters, several of which encode lipoproteins that usually play an important role in mycoplasma–host interaction. A decayed form of a conjugative element also described in a member of the mycoides cluster was found in the M. agalactiae genome, suggesting that HGT may have occurred by mobilizing a related genetic element. The possibility of HGT events among other mycoplasmas was evaluated with the available sequenced genomes. Our data indicate marginal levels of HGT among Mycoplasma species except for those described above and, to a lesser extent, for those observed in between the two bird pathogens, M. gallisepticum and M. synoviae. This first description of large-scale HGT among mycoplasmas sharing the same ecological niche challenges the generally accepted evolutionary scenario in which gene loss is the main driving force of mycoplasma evolution. The latter clearly differs from that of other bacteria with small genomes, particularly obligate intracellular bacteria that are isolated within host cells. Consequently, mycoplasmas are not only able to subvert complex hosts but presumably have retained sexual competence, a trait that may prevent them from genome stasis and contribute to adaptation to new hosts.
Author Summary
Mycoplasmas are cell wall–lacking prokaryotes that evolved from ancestors common to Gram-positive bacteria by way of massive losses of genetic material. With their minimal genome, mycoplasmas are considered to be the simplest free-living organisms, yet several species are successful pathogens of man and animal. In this study, we challenged the commonly accepted view in which mycoplasma evolution is driven only by genome down-sizing. Indeed, we showed that a significant amount of genes underwent horizontal transfer among different mycoplasma species that share the same ruminant hosts. In these species, the occurrence of a genetic element that can promote DNA transfer via cell-to-cell contact suggests that some mycoplasmas may have retained or acquired sexual competence. Transferred genes were found to encode proteins that are likely to be associated with mycoplasma–host interactions. Sharing genetic resources via horizontal gene transfer may provide mycoplasmas with a means for adapting to new niches or to new hosts and for avoiding irreversible genome erosion.
PMCID: PMC1868952  PMID: 17511520
13.  Development and Host Compatibility of Plasmids for Two Important Ruminant Pathogens, Mycoplasma bovis and Mycoplasma agalactiae 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119000.
Mycoplasma bovis is a cause of pneumonia, mastitis, arthritis and otitis media in cattle throughout the world. However, despite its clinical significance, there is a paucity of tools to genetically manipulate it, impeding our capacity to further explore the molecular basis of its virulence. To address this limitation, we developed a series of homologous and heterologous replicable plasmids from M. bovis and M. agalactiae. The shortest replicable oriC plasmid based on the region downstream of dnaA in M. bovis was 247 bp and contained two DnaA boxes, while oriC plasmids based on the region downstream of dnaA in M. agalactiae strains 5632 and PG2 were 219 bp and 217 bp in length, respectively, and contained only a single DnaA box. The efficiency of transformation in M. bovis and M. agalactiae was inversely correlated with the size of the oriC region in the construct, and, in general, homologous oriC plasmids had a higher transformation efficiency than heterologous oriC plasmids. The larger pWholeoriC45 and pMM21-7 plasmids integrated into the genomic oriC region of M. bovis, while the smaller oriC plasmids remained extrachromosomal for up to 20 serial passages in selective media. Although specific gene disruptions were not be achieved in M. bovis in this study, the oriC plasmids developed here could still be useful as tools in complementation studies and for expression of exogenous genes in both M. bovis and M. agalactiae.
PMCID: PMC4351888  PMID: 25746296
14.  Genome-Scale Analysis of Mycoplasma agalactiae Loci Involved in Interaction with Host Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25291.
Mycoplasma agalactiae is an important pathogen of small ruminants, in which it causes contagious agalactia. It belongs to a large group of “minimal bacteria” with a small genome and reduced metabolic capacities that are dependent on their host for nutrients. Mycoplasma survival thus relies on intimate contact with host cells, but little is known about the factors involved in these interactions or in the more general infectious process. To address this issue, an assay based on goat epithelial and fibroblastic cells was used to screen a M. agalactiae knockout mutant library. Mutants with reduced growth capacities in cell culture were selected and 62 genomic loci were identified as contributing to this phenotype. As expected for minimal bacteria, “transport and metabolism” was the functional category most commonly implicated in this phenotype, but 50% of the selected mutants were disrupted in coding sequences (CDSs) with unknown functions, with surface lipoproteins being most commonly represented in this category. Since mycoplasmas lack a cell wall, lipoproteins are likely to be important in interactions with the host. A few intergenic regions were also identified that may act as regulatory sequences under co-culture conditions. Interestingly, some mutants mapped to gene clusters that are highly conserved across mycoplasma species but located in different positions. One of these clusters was found in a transcriptionally active region of the M. agalactiae chromosome, downstream of a cryptic promoter. A possible scenario for the evolution of these loci is discussed. Finally, several CDSs identified here are conserved in other important pathogenic mycoplasmas, and some were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant species. These results provide a basis for further deciphering functions mediating mycoplasma-host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3179502  PMID: 21966487
15.  Mycoplasma mycoides, from "mycoides Small Colony" to "capri". A microevolutionary perspective 
BMC Genomics  2011;12:114.
The Mycoplasma mycoides cluster consists of five species or subspecies that are ruminant pathogens. One subspecies, Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides Small Colony (MmmSC), is the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. Its very close relative, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri (Mmc), is a more ubiquitous pathogen in small ruminants causing mastitis, arthritis, keratitis, pneumonia and septicaemia and is also found as saprophyte in the ear canal. To understand the genetics underlying these phenotypic differences, we compared the MmmSC PG1 type strain genome, which was already available, with the genome of an Mmc field strain (95010) that was sequenced in this study. We also compared the 95010 genome with the recently published genome of another Mmc strain (GM12) to evaluate Mmc strain diversity.
The MmmSC PG1 genome is 1,212 kbp and that of Mmc 95010 is ca. 58 kbp shorter. Most of the sequences present in PG1 but not 95010 are highly repeated Insertion Sequences (three types of IS) and large duplicated DNA fragments. The 95010 genome contains five types of IS, present in fewer copies than in PG1, and two copies of an integrative conjugative element. These mobile genetic elements have played a key role in genome plasticity, leading to inversions of large DNA fragments. Comparison of the two genomes suggested a marked decay of the PG1 genome that seems to be correlated with a greater number of IS. The repertoire of gene families encoding surface proteins is smaller in PG1. Several genes involved in polysaccharide metabolism and protein degradation are also absent from, or degraded in, PG1.
The genome of MmmSC PG1 is larger than that of Mmc 95010, its very close relative, but has less coding capacity. This is the result of large genetic rearrangements due to mobile elements that have also led to marked gene decay. This is consistent with a non-adaptative genomic complexity theory, allowing duplications or pseudogenes to be maintained in the absence of adaptive selection that would lead to purifying selection and genome streamlining over longer evolutionary times. These findings also suggest that MmmSC only recently adapted to its bovine host.
PMCID: PMC3053259  PMID: 21324191
16.  Critical Role of Dispensable Genes in Mycoplasma agalactiae Interaction with Mammalian Cells▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(4):1542-1551.
Mycoplasmas are minimal bacteria whose genomes barely exceed the smallest amount of information required to sustain autonomous life. Despite this apparent simplicity, several mycoplasmas are successful pathogens of humans and animals, in which they establish intimate interactions with epithelial cells at mucosal surfaces. To identify biological functions mediating mycoplasma interactions with mammalian cells, we produced a library of transposon knockout mutants in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae and used this library to identify mutants displaying a growth-deficient pheonotype in cell culture. M. agalactiae mutants displaying a 3-fold reduction in CFU titers to nearly complete extinction in coculture with HeLa cells were identified. Mapping of transposon insertion sites revealed 18 genomic regions putatively involved in the interaction of M. agalactiae with HeLa cells. Several of these regions encode proteins with features of membrane lipoproteins and/or were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant pathogenic mycoplasmas of ruminants. Two mutants with the most extreme phenotype carry a transposon in a genomic region designated the NIF locus which encodes homologues of SufS and SufU, two proteins presumably involved in [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis in Gram-positive bacteria. Complementation studies confirmed the conditional essentiality of the NIF locus, which was found to be critical for proliferation in the presence of HeLa cells and several other mammalian cell lines but dispensable for axenic growth. While our results raised questions regarding essential functions in mycoplasmas, they also provide a means for studying the role of mycoplasmas as minimal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2849427  PMID: 20123713
17.  A New Integrative Conjugative Element Occurs in Mycoplasma agalactiae as Chromosomal and Free Circular Forms 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(11):4137-4141.
An integrative conjugative element, ICEA, was characterized in Mycoplasma agalactiae strain 5632, in which it occurs as multiple chromosomal copies and as a free circular form. The distribution of ICEA sequences in M. agalactiae strains and their occurrence in Mycoplasma bovis suggest the spreading of the element within or between species.
PMCID: PMC1482908  PMID: 16707706
18.  Human Streptococcus agalactiae strains in aquatic mammals and fish 
BMC Microbiology  2013;13:41.
In humans, Streptococcus agalactiae or group B streptococcus (GBS) is a frequent coloniser of the rectovaginal tract, a major cause of neonatal infectious disease and an emerging cause of disease in non-pregnant adults. In addition, Streptococcus agalactiae causes invasive disease in fish, compromising food security and posing a zoonotic hazard. We studied the molecular epidemiology of S. agalactiae in fish and other aquatic species to assess potential for pathogen transmission between aquatic species and humans.
Isolates from fish (n = 26), seals (n = 6), a dolphin and a frog were characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, multilocus sequence typing and standardized 3-set genotyping, i.e. molecular serotyping and profiling of surface protein genes and mobile genetic elements.
Four subpopulations of S. agalactiae were identified among aquatic isolates. Sequence type (ST) 283 serotype III-4 and its novel single locus variant ST491 were detected in fish from Southeast Asia and shared a 3-set genotype identical to that of an emerging ST283 clone associated with invasive disease of adult humans in Asia. The human pathogenic strain ST7 serotype Ia was also detected in fish from Asia. ST23 serotype Ia, a subpopulation that is normally associated with human carriage, was found in all grey seals, suggesting that human effluent may contribute to microbial pollution of surface water and exposure of sea mammals to human pathogens. The final subpopulation consisted of non-haemolytic ST260 and ST261 serotype Ib isolates, which belong to a fish-associated clonal complex that has never been reported from humans.
The apparent association of the four subpopulations of S. agalactiae with specific groups of host species suggests that some strains of aquatic S. agalactiae may present a zoonotic or anthroponotic hazard. Furthermore, it provides a rational framework for exploration of pathogenesis and host-associated genome content of S. agalactiae strains.
PMCID: PMC3585737  PMID: 23419028
Streptococcus agalactiae; Fish; Sea mammal; Aquatic epidemiology; Molecular epidemiology; MLST; PFGE
19.  Genomic analysis reveals extensive gene duplication within the bovine TRB locus 
BMC Genomics  2009;10:192.
Diverse TR and IG repertoires are generated by V(D)J somatic recombination. Genomic studies have been pivotal in cataloguing the V, D, J and C genes present in the various TR/IG loci and describing how duplication events have expanded the number of these genes. Such studies have also provided insights into the evolution of these loci and the complex mechanisms that regulate TR/IG expression. In this study we analyze the sequence of the third bovine genome assembly to characterize the germline repertoire of bovine TRB genes and compare the organization, evolution and regulatory structure of the bovine TRB locus with that of humans and mice.
The TRB locus in the third bovine genome assembly is distributed over 5 scaffolds, extending to ~730 Kb. The available sequence contains 134 TRBV genes, assigned to 24 subgroups, and 3 clusters of DJC genes, each comprising a single TRBD gene, 5–7 TRBJ genes and a single TRBC gene. Seventy-nine of the TRBV genes are predicted to be functional. Comparison with the human and murine TRB loci shows that the gene order, as well as the sequences of non-coding elements that regulate TRB expression, are highly conserved in the bovine. Dot-plot analyses demonstrate that expansion of the genomic TRBV repertoire has occurred via a complex and extensive series of duplications, predominantly involving DNA blocks containing multiple genes. These duplication events have resulted in massive expansion of several TRBV subgroups, most notably TRBV6, 9 and 21 which contain 40, 35 and 16 members respectively. Similarly, duplication has lead to the generation of a third DJC cluster. Analyses of cDNA data confirms the diversity of the TRBV genes and, in addition, identifies a substantial number of TRBV genes, predominantly from the larger subgroups, which are still absent from the genome assembly. The observed gene duplication within the bovine TRB locus has created a repertoire of phylogenetically diverse functional TRBV genes, which is substantially larger than that described for humans and mice.
The analyses completed in this study reveal that, although the gene content and organization of the bovine TRB locus are broadly similar to that of humans and mice, multiple duplication events have led to a marked expansion in the number of TRB genes. Similar expansions in other ruminant TR loci suggest strong evolutionary pressures in this lineage have selected for the development of enlarged sets of TR genes that can contribute to diverse TR repertoires.
PMCID: PMC2685407  PMID: 19393068
20.  Chromosomal Transfers in Mycoplasmas: When Minimal Genomes Go Mobile 
mBio  2014;5(6):e01958-14.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a main driving force of bacterial evolution and innovation. This phenomenon was long thought to be marginal in mycoplasmas, a large group of self-replicating bacteria characterized by minute genomes as a result of successive gene losses during evolution. Recent comparative genomic analyses challenged this paradigm, but the occurrence of chromosomal exchanges had never been formally addressed in mycoplasmas. Here, we demonstrated the conjugal transfer of large chromosomal regions within and among ruminant mycoplasma species, with the incorporation of the incoming DNA occurring by homologous recombination into the recipient chromosome. By combining classical mating experiments with high-throughput next-generation sequencing, we documented the transfer of almost every position of the mycoplasma chromosome. Mycoplasma conjugation relies on the occurrence of an integrative conjugative element (ICE) in at least one parent cell. While ICE propagates horizontally from ICE-positive to ICE-negative cells, chromosomal transfers (CTs) occurred in the opposite direction, from ICE-negative to ICE-positive cells, independently of ICE movement. These findings challenged the classical mechanisms proposed for other bacteria in which conjugative CTs are driven by conjugative elements, bringing into the spotlight a new means for rapid mycoplasma innovation. Overall, they radically change our current views concerning the evolution of mycoplasmas, with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
Horizontal gene transfers (HGT) shape bacterial genomes and are key contributors to microbial diversity and innovation. One main mechanism involves conjugation, a process that allows the simultaneous transfer of significant amounts of DNA upon cell-to-cell contact. Recognizing and deciphering conjugal mechanisms are thus essential in understanding the impact of gene flux on bacterial evolution. We addressed this issue in mycoplasmas, the smallest and simplest self-replicating bacteria. In these organisms, HGT was long thought to be marginal. We showed here that nearly every position of the Mycoplasma agalactiae chromosome could be transferred via conjugation, using an unconventional mechanism. The transfer involved DNA blocks containing up to 80 genes that were incorporated into the host chromosome by homologous recombination. These findings radically change our views concerning mycoplasma evolution and adaptation with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4251992  PMID: 25425234
21.  Intrachromosomal Recombination within the vsp Locus of Mycoplasma bovis Generates a Chimeric Variable Surface Lipoprotein Antigen 
Infection and Immunity  2001;69(6):3703-3712.
A family of 13 related but divergent vsp genes was recently found in the chromosome of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis. The vsp genomic locus was shown to undergo high-frequency rearrangements and to mediate phenotypic switching of variable lipoprotein antigens (Vsps) on the mycoplasma cell surface. Here we report that the vsp gene repertoire is subject to changes. Genetic analysis of M. bovis clonal isolates displaying distinct Vsp phenotypes showed that an intergenic recombination event between two closely related members of the vsp gene family, the formerly expressed vspA gene and the vspO gene, led to the formation of a new chimeric and functional vsp gene, vspC. The 5′ end of the recombination event was identified within the highly conserved vsp-upstream region, while the 3′ end was localized within the first repetitive domain (RA1) present in both vspA and vspO structural genes. As a result, the vspC gene is an embodiment of the following domains: an N-terminus-encoding region linked to the highly conserved vsp-upstream region provided by the vspO gene; and a C-terminus-encoding region and the more distal and divergent vsp-upstream region acquired from the vspA gene. The generation of chimeric genes encoding surface antigens may provide an important element of genetic variation and an additional source of antigenic diversification within the mycoplasma population.
PMCID: PMC98374  PMID: 11349034
22.  RovS and Its Associated Signaling Peptide Form a Cell-To-Cell Communication System Required for Streptococcus agalactiae Pathogenesis 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02306-14.
Bacteria can communicate with each other to coordinate their biological functions at the population level. In a previous study, we described a cell-to-cell communication system in streptococci that involves a transcriptional regulator belonging to the Rgg family and short hydrophobic peptides (SHPs) that act as signaling molecules. Streptococcus agalactiae, an opportunistic pathogenic bacterium responsible for fatal infections in neonates and immunocompromised adults, has one copy of the shp/rgg locus. The SHP-associated Rgg is called RovS in S. agalactiae. In this study, we found that the SHP/RovS cell-to-cell communication system is active in the strain NEM316 of S. agalactiae, and we identified different partners that are involved in this system, such as the Eep peptidase, the PptAB, and the OppA1-F oligopeptide transporters. We also identified a new target gene controlled by this system and reexamined the regulation of a previously proposed target gene, fbsA, in the context of the SHP-associated RovS system. Furthermore, our results are the first to indicate the SHP/RovS system specificity to host liver and spleen using a murine model, which demonstrates its implication in streptococci virulence. Finally, we observed that SHP/RovS regulation influences S. agalactiae’s ability to adhere to and invade HepG2 hepatic cells. Hence, the SHP/RovS cell-to-cell communication system appears to be an essential mechanism that regulates pathogenicity in S. agalactiae and represents an attractive target for the development of new therapeutic strategies.
Importance  Rgg regulators and their cognate pheromones, called small hydrophobic peptides (SHPs), are present in nearly all streptococcal species. The general pathways of the cell-to-cell communication system in which Rgg and SHP take part are well understood. However, many other players remain unidentified, and the direct targets of the system, as well as its link to virulence, remain unclear. Here, we identified the different players involved in the SHP/Rgg system in S. agalactiae, which is the leading agent of severe infections in human newborns. We have identified a direct target of the Rgg regulator in S. agalactiae (called RovS) and examined a previously proposed target, all in the context of associated SHP. For the first time, we have also demonstrated the implication of the SHP/RovS mechanism in virulence, as well as its host organ specificity. Thus, this cell-to-cell communication system may represent a future target for S. agalactiae disease treatment.
Rgg regulators and their cognate pheromones, called small hydrophobic peptides (SHPs), are present in nearly all streptococcal species. The general pathways of the cell-to-cell communication system in which Rgg and SHP take part are well understood. However, many other players remain unidentified, and the direct targets of the system, as well as its link to virulence, remain unclear. Here, we identified the different players involved in the SHP/Rgg system in S. agalactiae, which is the leading agent of severe infections in human newborns. We have identified a direct target of the Rgg regulator in S. agalactiae (called RovS) and examined a previously proposed target, all in the context of associated SHP. For the first time, we have also demonstrated the implication of the SHP/RovS mechanism in virulence, as well as its host organ specificity. Thus, this cell-to-cell communication system may represent a future target for S. agalactiae disease treatment.
PMCID: PMC4324310  PMID: 25604789
23.  Population structuring of multi-copy, antigen-encoding genes in Plasmodium falciparum 
eLife  2012;1:e00093.
The coexistence of multiple independently circulating strains in pathogen populations that undergo sexual recombination is a central question of epidemiology with profound implications for control. An agent-based model is developed that extends earlier ‘strain theory’ by addressing the var gene family of Plasmodium falciparum. The model explicitly considers the extensive diversity of multi-copy genes that undergo antigenic variation via sequential, mutually exclusive expression. It tracks the dynamics of all unique var repertoires in a population of hosts, and shows that even under high levels of sexual recombination, strain competition mediated through cross-immunity structures the parasite population into a subset of coexisting dominant repertoires of var genes whose degree of antigenic overlap depends on transmission intensity. Empirical comparison of patterns of genetic variation at antigenic and neutral sites supports this role for immune selection in structuring parasite diversity.
eLife digest
Malaria is an infectious disease that is estimated to kill more than half a million people every year, mostly young children in Africa. It is spread by mosquitos that are infected with Plasmodium parasites that attack red blood cells in the human body. Plasmodium falciparum, the species that is responsible for most of these deaths, causes malaria by entering red blood cells and releasing antigens that travel to the surface of the cells, where they change the adhesion properties. This causes the infected red blood cells to accumulate in small blood vessels, surface capillaries or the brain, which can have severe consequences for the person infected.
P. falciparum is particularly dangerous because of its ability to vary the antigens displayed on the cell surface: this process, known as antigenic variation, helps to maintain infections for extended periods of time by allowing the antigens to stay one step ahead of the immune system (a process known as immune escape). The origins of antigenic variation lie in the fact that each P. falciparum genome has a repertoire of between 50 and 60 var genes that code for the variability of a major antigen that is responsible for immune escape in malaria. Molecular sequencing has shown that local parasite populations contain thousands of different types of var genes: hence, meiotic recombination in the mosquito can create a vast number of combinations of var repertoires.
Artzy-Randrup et al. have developed a computational model of this highly diverse and complex system to address the following question: is a local pathogen population composed of largely random and ephemeral repertoires of these genes, or is it structured into independently circulating strains? Their model goes beyond previous models by including interactions within the local host population that arise as a result of indirect competition between different strains of the pathogen for available hosts: this competition is influenced by the history of infection and, therefore, by the patterns of immunity within the host population. Previous models included within-host processes but not these higher, local population-level interactions.
The model simulates the dynamics of all the unique combinations of var genes in a population of hosts, and shows that even with high rates of reproduction, the parasite population self-organizes into a limited number of coexisting strains: the distinct var repertoires of these strains only weakly overlap, suggesting that the immune response of the host population has been partitioned into distinct niches. By investigating genetic variation at both antigenic sites and regions of the genome that do not code for antigens, Artzy-Randrup et al. suggest that immune selection—the selection imposed on var repertoires by the build up of specific immunity at the population level—plays a central role in structuring parasite diversity.
The new model should lead to a better understanding of the epidemiology of Plasmodium and other pathogens that work in similar ways, including Trypanosoma brucei (sleeping sickness), Borellia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) and Giardia lamblia (gastroenteritis), and help with global efforts to eliminate malaria and other diseases.
PMCID: PMC3524794  PMID: 23251784
parasite population structure; epidemiological dynamics; antigenic diversity; immune selection; Plasmodium falciparum; var multi-gene family; Other
24.  rgf Encodes a Novel Two-Component Signal Transduction System of Streptococcus agalactiae  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(5):2434-2440.
The adhesion of gram-positive bacteria to extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins is regarded as an important determinant of pathogenicity. A comparison of the adhesion of Streptococcus agalactiae strain O90R to different ECM proteins showed that the most pronounced binding could be observed for immobilized fibrinogen. To investigate the genetic determinants of S. agalactiae fibrinogen binding, a pGhost9:ISS1 mutant library was screened for mutants displaying reduced agglutination of fibrinogen-coated latex beads. A putative two-component signal transduction system was identified and designated rgfBDAC. It comprises genes encoding a putative response regulator of 218 amino acids and a putative histidine kinase of 426 amino acids. Comparison of the deduced proteins with the GenBank database revealed a significant similarity to quorum-sensing systems of gram-positive pathogens. Transcription analysis of the rgf locus showed that the encoding genes are located on one transcript. To further characterize the influence of the putative histidine kinase encoded in the rgf locus on the adhesion of S. agalactiae to immobilized fibrinogen, a targeted mutant of rgfC was generated. In comparison to the wild-type strain this mutant demonstrated altered fibrinogen binding capacities depending on bacterial cell density. Transcription analysis of secreted and surface-localized S. agalactiae proteins in the wild type and the rgfC mutant strain revealed that mRNA levels of the C5a peptidase gene scpB were increased in the mutant strain while the transcription of the secreted CAMP factor gene cfb was unaffected by this mutation. Based on these results, we hypothesize that rgf regulates the expression of bacterial cell surface components.
PMCID: PMC127907  PMID: 11953380
25.  Genomic organization and recombinational unit duplication-driven evolution of ovine and bovine T cell receptor gamma loci 
BMC Genomics  2008;9:81.
In humans and mice ("γδ low species") less than 5% of the peripheral blood T lymphocytes are gamma/delta T cells, whereas in chicken and artiodactyls ("γδ high species") gamma/delta T cells represent about half of the T cells in peripheral blood. In cattle and sheep (Bovidae) two paralogous T cell receptor gamma loci (TRG1 and TRG2) have been found. TRG1 is located on 4q3.1, within a region of homology with the human TRG locus on chromosome 7, while TRG2 localizes on 4q2.2 and appears to be unique to ruminants. The purpose of this study was the sequencing of the genomic regions encompassing both loci in a "γδ high" organism and the analysis of their evolutionary history.
We obtained the contiguous genomic sequences of the complete sheep TRG1 and TRG2 loci gene repertoire and we performed cattle/sheep sequence analysis comparison using data available through public databases. Dot plot similarity matrix comparing the two sheep loci with each other has shown that variable (V), joining (J) and constant (C) genes have evolved through a series of duplication events involving either entire cassettes, each containing the basic V-J-J-C recombinational unit, or single V genes. The phylogenetic behaviour of the eight enhancer-like elements found in the sheep, compared with the single copy present in the human TRG locus, and evidence from concordant insertions of repetitive elements in all analyzed TRGJ blocks allowed us to infer an evolutionary scenario which highlights the genetic "flexibility" of this region and the duplication-driven evolution of gene cassettes. The strong similarity of the human and Bovidae intergenic J-J-C regions, which display an enhancer-like element at their 3' ends, further supports their key role in duplications.
We propose that only duplications of entire J-J-C regions that possessed an enhancer-like element at their 3' end, and acquired at least one V segment at their 5' end, were selected and fixed as functional recombinational units.
PMCID: PMC2270265  PMID: 18282289

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