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.
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.
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.
Mycoplasma hominis is an opportunistic human mycoplasma. Two other pathogenic human species, M. genitalium and Ureaplasma parvum, reside within the same natural niche as M. hominis: the urogenital tract. These three species have overlapping, but distinct, pathogenic roles. They have minimal genomes and, thus, reduced metabolic capabilities characterized by distinct energy-generating pathways. Analysis of the M. hominis PG21 genome sequence revealed that it is the second smallest genome among self-replicating free living organisms (665,445 bp, 537 coding sequences (CDSs)). Five clusters of genes were predicted to have undergone horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between M. hominis and the phylogenetically distant U. parvum species. We reconstructed M. hominis metabolic pathways from the predicted genes, with particular emphasis on energy-generating pathways. The Embden–Meyerhoff–Parnas pathway was incomplete, with a single enzyme absent. We identified the three proteins constituting the arginine dihydrolase pathway. This pathway was found essential to promote growth in vivo. The predicted presence of dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase suggested that arginine catabolism is more complex than initially described. This enzyme may have been acquired by HGT from non-mollicute bacteria. Comparison of the three minimal mollicute genomes showed that 247 CDSs were common to all three genomes, whereas 220 CDSs were specific to M. hominis, 172 CDSs were specific to M. genitalium, and 280 CDSs were specific to U. parvum. Within these species-specific genes, two major sets of genes could be identified: one including genes involved in various energy-generating pathways, depending on the energy source used (glucose, urea, or arginine) and another involved in cytadherence and virulence. Therefore, a minimal mycoplasma cell, not including cytadherence and virulence-related genes, could be envisaged containing a core genome (247 genes), plus a set of genes required for providing energy. For M. hominis, this set would include 247+9 genes, resulting in a theoretical minimal genome of 256 genes.
Mycoplasma hominis, M. genitalium, and Ureaplasma parvum are human pathogenic bacteria that colonize the urogenital tract. They have minimal genomes, and thus have a minimal metabolic capacity. However, they have distinct energy-generating pathways and distinct pathogenic roles. We compared the genomes of these three human pathogen minimal species, providing further insight into the composition of hypothetical minimal gene sets needed for life. To this end, we sequenced the whole M. hominis genome and reconstructed its energy-generating pathways from gene predictions. Its unusual major energy-producing pathway through arginine hydrolysis was confirmed in both genome analyses and in vivo assays. Our findings suggest that M. hominis and U. parvum underwent genetic exchange, probably while sharing a common host. We proposed a set of genes likely to represent a minimal genome. For M. hominis, this minimal genome, not including cytadherence and virulence-related genes, can be defined comprising the 247 genes shared by the three minimal genital mollicutes, combined with a set of nine genes needed for energy production for cell metabolism. This study provides insight for the synthesis of artificial genomes.
Appropriate infection models are imperative for the understanding of pathogens like mycoplasmas that are known for their strict host and tissue specificity, and lack of suitable cell and small animal models has hindered pathogenicity studies. This is particularly true for the economically important group of ruminant mycoplasmas whose virulence factors need to be elucidated for designing effective intervention strategies. Mycoplasma agalactiae serves as a useful role model especially because it is phylogenetically very close to M. bovis and causes similar symptoms by as yet unknown mechanisms. Here, we successfully prepared and characterized four different primary sheep cell lines, namely the epithelial and stromal cells from the mammary gland and uterus, respectively. Using immunohistochemistry, we identified vimentin and cytokeratin as specific markers to confirm the typical cell phenotypes of these primary cells. Furthermore, M. agalactiae’s consistent adhesion and invasion into these primary cells proves the reliability of these cell models. Mimicking natural infections, mammary epithelial and stromal cells showed higher invasion and adhesion rates compared to the uterine cells as also seen via double immunofluorescence staining. Altogether, we have generated promising in vitro cell models to study host–pathogen interactions of M. agalactiae and related ruminant pathogens in a more authentic manner.
The study is an important step forward in developing in vitro models that will facilitate analyses of Mycoplasma agalactiae and related ruminant mycoplasmas' host–pathogen interactions at the molecular level.
Graphical Abstract Figure.The study is an important step forward in developing in vitro models that will facilitate analyses of Mycoplasma agalactiae and related ruminant mycoplasmas' host–pathogen interactions at the molecular level.
invasion; adhesion; primary cell culture; immunohistochemistry; ruminant mycoplasmosis; host cell interactions
Comparative genomics have revealed massive horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between Mycoplasma species sharing common ruminant hosts. Further results pointed toward an integrative conjugative element (ICE) as an important contributor of HGT in the small-ruminant-pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae. To estimate the prevalence of ICEs in ruminant mycoplasmas, we surveyed their occurrence in a collection of 166 field strains representing 4 (sub)species that are recognized as major pathogens. Based on available sequenced genomes, we first defined the conserved, minimal ICE backbone as composed of 4 coding sequences (CDSs) that are evenly distributed and predicted to be essential for ICE chromosomal integration-excision and horizontal transfer. Screening of the strain collection revealed that these 4 CDSs are well represented in ruminant Mycoplasma species, suggesting widespread occurrence of ICEs. Yet their prevalence varies within and among species, with no correlation found with the individual strain history. Extrachromosomal ICE forms were also often detected, suggesting that ICEs are able to circularize in all species, a first and essential step in ICE horizontal transfer. Examination of the junction of the circular forms and comparative sequence analysis of conserved CDSs clearly pointed toward two types of ICE, the hominis and spiroplasma types, most likely differing in their mechanism of excision-integration. Overall, our data indicate the occurrence and maintenance of functional ICEs in a large number of field isolates of ruminant mycoplasmas. These may contribute to genome plasticity and gene exchanges and, presumably, to the emergence of diverse genotypes within pathogenic mycoplasmas of veterinary importance.
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.
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.
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.
Streptococcus agalactiae is a major neonatal pathogen whose infectious route involves septicemia. This pathogen does not synthesize heme, but scavenges it from blood to activate a respiration metabolism, which increases bacterial cell density and is required for full virulence. Factors that regulate heme pools in S. agalactiae are unknown. Here we report that one main strategy of heme and protoporphyrin IX (PPIX) homeostasis in S. agalactiae is based on a regulated system of efflux using two newly characterized operons, gbs1753 gbs1752 (called pefA pefB), and gbs1402 gbs1401 gbs1400 (called pefR pefC pefD), where pef stands for ‘porphyrin-regulated efflux’. In vitro and in vivo data show that PefR, a MarR-superfamily protein, is a repressor of both operons. Heme or PPIX both alleviate PefR-mediated repression. We show that bacteria inactivated for both Pef efflux systems display accrued sensitivity to these porphyrins, and give evidence that they accumulate intracellularly. The ΔpefR mutant, in which both pef operons are up-regulated, is defective for heme-dependent respiration, and attenuated for virulence. We conclude that this new efflux regulon controls intracellular heme and PPIX availability in S. agalactiae, and is needed for its capacity to undergo respiration metabolism, and to infect the host.
The infectious route of numerous bacterial pathogens includes septicemia, where bacteria are exposed to heme-rich blood. Heme (iron protoporphyrin IX) is generally considered a bacterial iron source. However, while some pathogens do not biosynthesize heme, they use environmental heme to activate key functions. For example, incorporation of heme by the major neonatal pathogen Streptococcus agalactiae activates a latent respiration chain. Respiration metabolism stimulates S. agalactiae growth and survival in blood, and is needed for virulence. While the importance of heme in S. agalactiae behavior is documented, how it manages its intracellular heme pools remains unknown. We discovered a novel regulon, called Pef for “porphyrin-regulated efflux”, that modulates S. agalactiae intracellular availability of heme and protoporphyrin IX. A single transcriptional regulator, PefR, represses two distinct efflux transport operons. Regulator-mediated repression is alleviated by heme or protoporphyrin IX. Importantly, over-expression of Pef efflux transporters led to intracellular heme insufficiency, and consequent respiration and virulence defects. Inversely, when Pef efflux transporters were inactivated, results indicated an increased intracellular accumulation of heme and protoporphyrin IX. These studies point to the important role of regulated efflux transport systems in bacterial pathogens for maintaining intracellular heme at levels sufficient to stimulate growth and promote infection.
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.
Streptococcus agalactiae is a common human commensal and a major life-threatening pathogen in neonates. Adherence to host epithelial cells is the first critical step of the infectious process. Pili have been observed on the surface of several gram-positive bacteria including S. agalactiae. We previously characterized the pilus-encoding operon gbs1479-1474 in strain NEM316. This pilus is composed of three structural subunit proteins: Gbs1478 (PilA), Gbs1477 (PilB), and Gbs1474 (PilC), and its assembly involves two class C sortases (SrtC3 and SrtC4). PilB, the bona fide pilin, is the major component; PilA, the pilus associated adhesin, and PilC, are both accessory proteins incorporated into the pilus backbone. We first addressed the role of the housekeeping sortase A in pilus biogenesis and showed that it is essential for the covalent anchoring of the pilus fiber to the peptidoglycan. We next aimed at understanding the role of the pilus fiber in bacterial adherence and at resolving the paradox of an adhesive but dispensable pilus. Combining immunoblotting and electron microscopy analyses, we showed that the PilB fiber is essential for efficient PilA display on the surface of the capsulated strain NEM316. We then demonstrated that pilus integrity becomes critical for adherence to respiratory epithelial cells under flow-conditions mimicking an in vivo situation and revealing the limitations of the commonly used static adherence model. Interestingly, PilA exhibits a von Willebrand adhesion domain (VWA) found in many extracellular eucaryotic proteins. We show here that the VWA domain of PilA is essential for its adhesive function, demonstrating for the first time the functionality of a prokaryotic VWA homolog. Furthermore, the auto aggregative phenotype of NEM316 observed in standing liquid culture was strongly reduced in all three individual pilus mutants. S. agalactiae strain NEM316 was able to form biofilm in microtiter plate and, strikingly, the PilA and PilB mutants were strongly impaired in biofilm formation. Surprisingly, the VWA domain involved in adherence to epithelial cells was not required for biofilm formation.
Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus) is a leading cause of sepsis (blood infection) and meningitis (brain infection) in newborns. Most bacterial pathogens have long filamentous structures known as pili or fimbriae, which are often involved in the initial adhesion of bacteria to host tissues but also in bacteria–bacteria interactions, resulting in biofilm formation. Our previous functional characterization of the pilus locus in S. agalactiae showed that it encodes a major pilin and two minor pilin subunits that are covalently polymerized by the action of two enzymes belonging to the sortase C family. One of the accessory pilins is responsible for the adhesive property of the pilus. However, this initial study raised two major questions that were addressed in the present work: i) what anchors the pilus to the cell wall and ii) what is the function of the pilus fiber itself. We showed that the pilus is essential for optimal display of the pilus-associated adhesin and overcomes the masking effect of the capsule. Pilus integrity was shown to be critical in adherence assays under flow conditions. We also report that GBS can form biofilms and that pili play an important role in this process.
The recent sequencing of the entire genomes of Mycoplasma genitalium and M. pneumoniae has attracted considerable attention to the molecular biology of mycoplasmas, the smallest self-replicating organisms. It appears that we are now much closer to the goal of defining, in molecular terms, the entire machinery of a self-replicating cell. Comparative genomics based on comparison of the genomic makeup of mycoplasmal genomes with those of other bacteria, has opened new ways of looking at the evolutionary history of the mycoplasmas. There is now solid genetic support for the hypothesis that mycoplasmas have evolved as a branch of gram-positive bacteria by a process of reductive evolution. During this process, the mycoplasmas lost considerable portions of their ancestors’ chromosomes but retained the genes essential for life. Thus, the mycoplasmal genomes carry a high percentage of conserved genes, greatly facilitating gene annotation. The significant genome compaction that occurred in mycoplasmas was made possible by adopting a parasitic mode of life. The supply of nutrients from their hosts apparently enabled mycoplasmas to lose, during evolution, the genes for many assimilative processes. During their evolution and adaptation to a parasitic mode of life, the mycoplasmas have developed various genetic systems providing a highly plastic set of variable surface proteins to evade the host immune system. The uniqueness of the mycoplasmal systems is manifested by the presence of highly mutable modules combined with an ability to expand the antigenic repertoire by generating structural alternatives, all compressed into limited genomic sequences. In the absence of a cell wall and a periplasmic space, the majority of surface variable antigens in mycoplasmas are lipoproteins. Apart from providing specific antimycoplasmal defense, the host immune system is also involved in the development of pathogenic lesions and exacerbation of mycoplasma induced diseases. Mycoplasmas are able to stimulate as well as suppress lymphocytes in a nonspecific, polyclonal manner, both in vitro and in vivo. As well as to affecting various subsets of lymphocytes, mycoplasmas and mycoplasma-derived cell components modulate the activities of monocytes/macrophages and NK cells and trigger the production of a wide variety of up-regulating and down-regulating cytokines and chemokines. Mycoplasma-mediated secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin-1 (IL-1), and IL-6, by macrophages and of up-regulating cytokines by mitogenically stimulated lymphocytes plays a major role in mycoplasma-induced immune system modulation and inflammatory responses.
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.
Mycoplasma agalactiae; phase variation; variable surface lipoproteins; Vpma; phase-locked mutants; mastitis
While the genomes of a number of Mycoplasma species have been fully determined, there has been limited characterization of which genes are essential. The surface protein (p47) identified by monoclonal antibody B3 is the basis for an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for serological detection of Mycoplasma gallisepticum infection and appears to be constitutively expressed. Its gene was cloned, and the DNA sequence was determined. Subsequent analysis of the p47 amino acid sequence and searches of DNA databases found homologous gene sequences in the genomes of M. pneumoniae and M. genitalium and identity with a gene family in Ureaplasma urealyticum and genes in M. agalactiae and M. fermentans. The proteins encoded by these genes were found to belong to a family of basic membrane proteins (BMP) that are found in a wide range of bacteria, including a number of pathogens. Several of the BMP family members, including p47, contain selective lipoprotein-associated motifs that are found in macrophage-activating lipoprotein 404 of M. fermentans and lipoprotein P48 of M. agalactiae. The p47 gene was predicted to encode a 59-kDa peptide, but affinity-purified p47 had a molecular mass of approximately 47 kDa, as determined by polyacrylamide gel analysis. Analysis of native and recombinant p47 by mass peptide fingerprinting revealed the absence of the carboxyl end of the protein encoded by the p47 gene in native p47, which would account for the difference seen in the predicted and measured molecular weights and indicated posttranslational cleavage of the lipoprotein at its carboxyl end. A DNA construct containing the p47 gene interrupted by the gene encoding tetracycline resistance was used to transform M. gallisepticum cells. A tetracycline-resistant mycoplasma clone, P2, contained the construct inserted within the genomic p47 gene, with crossovers occurring between 73 bp upstream and 304 bp downstream of the inserted tetracycline resistance gene. The absence of p47 protein in clone P2 was determined by the lack of reactivity with rabbit anti-p47 sera or monoclonal antibody B3 in Western blots of whole-cell proteins. There was no difference between the p47− mutant and wild-type M. gallisepticum in pathogenicity in chicken tracheal organ cultures. Thus, p47, although homologous to genes that occur in many prokaryotes, is not essential for growth in vitro or for attachment and the initial stages of pathogenesis in chickens.
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.
As a first step toward the design of an epitope vaccine to prevent contagious agalactia, the strongly immunogenic 55-kDa protein of Mycoplasma agalactiae was studied and found to correspond to the AvgC protein encoded by the avgC gene. The avg genes of M. agalactiae, which encode four variable surface lipoproteins, display a significant homology to the vsp (variable membrane surface lipoproteins) genes of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis at their promoter region as well as their N-terminus-encoding regions. Some members of the Vsp family are known to be involved in cytoadhesion to host cells. In order to localize immunogenic peptides in the AvgC antigen, the protein sequence was submitted to epitope prediction analysis, and five sets of overlapping peptides, corresponding to five selected regions, were synthesized by Spot synthesis. Reactive peptides were selected by immunobinding assay with sera from infected sheep. The three most immunogenic epitopes were shown to be surface exposed by immunoprecipitation assays, and one of these was specifically recognized by all tested sera. Our study indicates that selected epitopes of the AvgC lipoprotein may be used to develop a peptide-based vaccine which is effective against M. agalactiae infection.
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.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits a very versatile surface architecture by switching multiple, related lipoproteins (Vpmas) on and off. In the type strain, PG2, Vpma phase variation is generated by a cluster of six vpma genes that undergo frequent DNA rearrangements via site-specific recombination. To further comprehend the degree of diversity that can be generated at the M. agalactiae surface, the vpma gene repertoire of a field strain, 5632, was analyzed and shown to contain an extended repertoire of 23 vpma genes distributed between two loci located 250 kbp apart. Loci I and II include 16 and 7 vpma genes, respectively, with all vpma genes of locus II being duplicated at locus I. Several Vpmas displayed a chimeric structure suggestive of homologous recombination, and a global proteomic analysis further indicated that at least 13 of the 16 Vpmas can be expressed by the 5632 strain. Because a single promoter is present in each vpma locus, concomitant Vpma expression can occur in a strain with duplicated loci. Consequently, the number of possible surface combinations is much higher for strain 5632 than for the type strain. Finally, our data suggested that insertion sequences are likely to be involved in 5632 vpma locus duplication at a remote chromosomal position. The role of such mobile genetic elements in chromosomal shuffling of genes encoding major surface components may have important evolutionary and epidemiological consequences for pathogens, such as mycoplasmas, that have a reduced genome and no cell wall.
Contagious agalactia (CA) of sheep and goats caused by Mycoplasma agalactiae is a widely occurring economically important disease that is difficult to control. The ELISA is commonly used for the serological detection of CA but it has some limitations and the performance of the available tests have not been properly evaluated.
Two commercial ELISA kits are widely used, one involving a fusion protein as target antigen and the other a total antigen. The objectives were to compare these tests by evaluating:
i. Their diagnostic sensitivity and specificity, the relevance of the recommended cut-off points, the correlation between the two tests, and, the correlation between serology data and the milk shedding of M. agalatiae;
ii. The influence of extrinsic factors such as the targeted animal species, geographical origin of the samples, intra-specific variability of M. agalactiae and concurrent mycoplasma infections.
A sample of 5900 animals from 211 farms with continuous CA monitoring for 20 years and no prior vaccination history was used. The infection status was known from prior bacteriological, epidemiological and serological monitoring with a complementary immunoblotting test.
The average diagnostic sensitivity was 56% [51.8–59.8] for the fusion protein ELISA and 84% [81.3–87.2] for the total antigen ELISA, with noteworthy flock-related variations. The average diagnostic specificity for the fusion protein ELISA was 100% [99.9–100], and for the total antigen ELISA differed significantly between goats and sheep: 99.3% [97.4–99.9] and 95.7% [93.8–97.2] respectively.
Experimental inoculations with different M. agalactiae strains revealed that the ELISA kits poorly detected the antibody response to certain strains. Furthermore, test performances varied according to the host species or geographical origin of the samples.
Finally, the correlation between milk shedding of M. agalactiae and the presence of detectable antibodies in the blood was poor.
These serological tests are not interchangeable. The choice of a test will depend on the objectives (early detection of infection or disease control program), on the prevalence of infection and the control protocol used. Given the variety of factors that may influence performance, a preliminary assessment of the test in a given situation is recommended prior to widespread use.
Generally regarded as extracellular pathogens, molecular mechanisms of mycoplasma persistence, chronicity and disease spread are largely unknown. Mycoplasma agalactiae, an economically important pathogen of small ruminants, causes chronic infections that are difficult to eradicate. Animals continue to shed the agent for several months and even years after the initial infection, in spite of long antibiotic treatment. However, little is known about the strategies that M. agalactiae employs to survive and spread within an immunocompetent host to cause chronic disease. Here, we demonstrate for the first time its ability to invade cultured human (HeLa) and ruminant (BEND and BLF) host cells. Presence of intracellular mycoplasmas is clearly substantiated using differential immunofluorescence technique and quantitative gentamicin invasion assays. Internalized M. agalactiae could survive and exit the cells in a viable state to repopulate the extracellular environment after complete removal of extracellular bacteria with gentamicin. Furthermore, an experimental sheep intramammary infection was carried out to evaluate its systemic spread to organs and host niches distant from the site of initial infection. Positive results obtained via PCR, culture and immunohistochemistry, especially the latter depicting the presence of M. agalactiae in the cytoplasm of mammary duct epithelium and macrophages, clearly provide the first formal proof of M. agalactiae's capability to translocate across the mammary epithelium and systemically disseminate to distant inner organs. Altogether, the findings of these in vitro and in vivo studies indicate that M. agalactiae is capable of entering host cells and this might be the strategy that it employs at a population level to ward off the host immune response and antibiotic action, and to disseminate to new and safer niches to later egress and once again proliferate upon the return of favorable conditions to cause persistent chronic infections.
Mycoplasma agalactiae; Cell invasion; Systemic spreading; Persistence; Immunohistochemistry; Intracellular
Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization–time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) recently emerged as a technology for the identification of bacteria. In this study, we aimed to evaluate its applicability to human and ruminant mycoplasmal identification, which can be demanding and time-consuming when using phenotypic or molecular methods. In addition, MALDI-TOF MS was tested as a subtyping tool for certain species. A total of 29 main spectra (MSP) from 10 human and 13 ruminant mycoplasma (sub)species were included in a mycoplasma MSP database to complete the Bruker MALDI Biotyper database. After broth culture and protein extraction, MALDI-TOF MS was applied for the identification of 119 human and 143 ruminant clinical isolates that were previously identified by antigenic or molecular methods and for subcultures of 73 ruminant clinical specimens that potentially contained several mycoplasma species. MALDI-TOF MS resulted in accurate (sub)species-level identification with a score of ≥1.700 for 96% (251/262) of the isolates. The phylogenetically closest (sub)species were unequivocally distinguished. Although mixtures of the strains were reliably detected up to a certain cellular ratio, only the predominant species was identified from the cultures of polymicrobial clinical specimens. For typing purposes, MALDI-TOF MS proved to cluster Mycoplasma bovis and Mycoplasma agalactiae isolates by their year of isolation and genome profiles, respectively, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae isolates by their adhesin P1 type. In conclusion, MALDI-TOF MS is a rapid, reliable, and cost-effective method for the routine identification of high-density growing mycoplasmal species and shows promising prospects for its capacity for strain typing.
The evolution of mycoplasmas from a common ancestor with Firmicutes has been characterized not only by genome down-sizing but also by horizontal gene transfer between mycoplasma species sharing a common host. The mechanisms of these gene transfers remain unclear because our knowledge of the mycoplasma mobile genetic elements is limited. In particular, only a few plasmids have been described within the Mycoplasma genus.
We have shown that several species of ruminant mycoplasmas carry plasmids that are members of a large family of elements and replicate via a rolling-circle mechanism. All plasmids were isolated from species that either belonged or were closely related to the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster; none was from the Mycoplasma bovis-Mycoplasma agalactiae group. Twenty one plasmids were completely sequenced, named and compared with each other and with the five mycoplasma plasmids previously reported. All plasmids share similar size and genetic organization, and present a mosaic structure. A peculiar case is that of the plasmid pMyBK1 from M. yeatsii; it is larger in size and is predicted to be mobilizable. Its origin of replication and replication protein were identified. In addition, pMyBK1 derivatives were shown to replicate in various species of the M. mycoides cluster, and therefore hold considerable promise for developing gene vectors. The phylogenetic analysis of these plasmids confirms the uniqueness of pMyBK1 and indicates that the other mycoplasma plasmids cluster together, apart from the related replicons found in phytoplasmas and in species of the clade Firmicutes.
Our results unraveled a totally new picture of mycoplasma plasmids. Although they probably play a limited role in the gene exchanges that participate in mycoplasma evolution, they are abundant in some species. Evidence for the occurrence of frequent genetic recombination strongly suggests they are transmitted between species sharing a common host or niche.
Mycoplasma,Plasmid,Replication,Rep protein,Gene transfer,Evolution,Expression vector,Mycoplasma mycoides,Mycoplasma capricolum,Mycoplasma yeatsii
Mycoplasmas are the simplest bacteria capable of autonomous replication. Their evolution proceeded from gram-positive bacteria, with the loss of many biosynthetic pathways and of the cell wall. In this work, the liposoluble protein complement of Mycoplasma agalactiae, a minimal bacterial pathogen causing mastitis, polyarthritis, keratoconjunctivitis, and abortion in small ruminants, was subjected to systematic characterization in order to gain insights into its membrane proteome composition.
The selective enrichment for M. agalactiae PG2T liposoluble proteins was accomplished by means of Triton X-114 fractionation. Liposoluble proteins were subjected to 2-D PAGE-MS, leading to the identification of 40 unique proteins and to the generation of a reference 2D map of the M. agalactiae liposoluble proteome. Liposoluble proteins from the type strain PG2 and two field isolates were then compared by means of 2D DIGE, revealing reproducible differences in protein expression among isolates. An in-depth analysis was then performed by GeLC-MS/MS in order to achieve a higher coverage of the liposoluble proteome. Using this approach, a total of 194 unique proteins were identified, corresponding to 26% of all M. agalactiae PG2T genes. A gene ontology analysis and classification for localization and function was also carried out on all protein identifications. Interestingly, the 11.5% of expressed membrane proteins derived from putative horizontal gene transfer events.
This study led to the in-depth systematic characterization of the M. agalactiae liposoluble protein component, providing useful insights into its membrane organization.
Mycoplasmas possess complex pathogenicity determinants that are largely unknown at the molecular level. Mycoplasma agalactiae serves as a useful model to study the molecular basis of mycoplasma pathogenicity. The generation and in vivo screening of a transposon mutant library of M. agalactiae were employed to unravel its host colonization factors. Tn4001mod mutants were sequenced using a novel sequencing method, and functionally heterogeneous pools containing 15 to 19 selected mutants were screened simultaneously through two successive cycles of sheep intramammary infections. A PCR-based negative selection method was employed to identify mutants that failed to colonize the udders and draining lymph nodes in the animals. A total of 14 different mutants found to be absent from ≥95% of samples were identified and subsequently verified via a second round of stringent confirmatory screening where 100% absence was considered attenuation. Using this criterion, seven mutants with insertions in genes MAG1050, MAG2540, MAG3390, uhpT, eutD, adhT, and MAG4460 were not recovered from any of the infected animals. Among the attenuated mutants, many contain disruptions in hypothetical genes, implying their previously unknown role in M. agalactiae pathogenicity. These data indicate the putative role of functionally different genes, including hypothetical ones, in the pathogenesis of M. agalactiae. Defining the precise functions of the identified genes is anticipated to increase our understanding of M. agalactiae infections and to develop successful intervention strategies against it.
The bacterium Mycoplasma agalactiae is responsible for contagious agalactia (CA) in small domestic ruminants, a syndrome listed by the World Organization for Animal Health and responsible for severe damage to the dairy industry. Recently, we frequently isolated this pathogen from lung lesions of ibexes during a mortality episode in the French Alps. This situation was unusual in terms of host specificity and tissue tropism, raising the question of M. agalactiae emergence in wildlife. To address this issue, the ibex isolates were characterized using a combination of approaches that included antigenic profiles, molecular typing, optical mapping, and whole-genome sequencing. Genome analyses showed the presence of a new, large prophage containing 35 coding sequences (CDS) that was detected in most but not all ibex strains and has a homolog in Mycoplasma conjunctivae, a species causing keratoconjunctivitis in wild ungulates. This and the presence in all strains of large integrated conjugative elements suggested highly dynamic genomes. Nevertheless, M. agalactiae strains circulating in the ibex population were shown to be highly related, most likely originating from a single parental clone that has also spread to another wild ungulate species of the same geographical area, the chamois. These strains clearly differ from strains described in Europe so far, including those found nearby, before CA eradication a few years ago. While M. agalactiae pathogenicity in ibexes remains unclear, our data showed the emergence of atypical strains in Alpine wild ungulates, raising the question of a role for the wild fauna as a potential reservoir of pathogenic mycoplasmas.