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1.  The regulation by iron of the synthesis of adhesins and cytoadherence levels in the protozoan Trichomonas vaginalis 
Levels of adherence of Trichomonas vaginalis to epithelial cells was found to be modulated by iron. Cytoadherence values were greater than or equal to twofold higher for trichomonads grown in a complex cultivation medium supplemented with iron. This increase in adherence levels was specifically mediated by iron; parasites cultured in a low- iron medium in the presence of salts other than iron were unresponsive to changes in adherence levels. Expression of the higher adherence property, by parasites grown first in low-iron medium followed by supplementation with iron, was a function of time, and the extent of cytoadherence was proportional to the concentration of iron added to the medium. Lactoferrin, an important iron source for trichomonads at the site of infection, elevated adherence of the parasite to epithelial cells, demonstrating the likely in vivo modulation of adherence by iron. The alteration of levels of adherence caused by iron was determined to be a reflection of gene expression of previously characterized trichomonad adhesins. Parasites grown under iron-replete conditions had higher quantities of surface-exposed adhesins, and this was a result of increased synthesis of adhesins. Actinomycin D and alpha-amanitin prevented expression of adhesin molecules, which resulted in decreased cytoadherence, showing that adhesin synthesis was dependent on gene transcription. Data indicated that genes encoding the four trichomonad adhesins are coordinately regulated by iron.
PMCID: PMC2118921  PMID: 1856625
2.  Microbial iron management mechanisms in extremely acidic environments: comparative genomics evidence for diversity and versatility 
BMC Microbiology  2008;8:203.
Background
Iron is an essential nutrient but can be toxic at high intracellular concentrations and organisms have evolved tightly regulated mechanisms for iron uptake and homeostasis. Information on iron management mechanisms is available for organisms living at circumneutral pH. However, very little is known about how acidophilic bacteria, especially those used for industrial copper bioleaching, cope with environmental iron loads that can be 1018 times the concentration found in pH neutral environments. This study was motivated by the need to fill this lacuna in knowledge. An understanding of how microorganisms thrive in acidic ecosystems with high iron loads requires a comprehensive investigation of the strategies to acquire iron and to coordinate this acquisition with utilization, storage and oxidation of iron through metal responsive regulation. In silico prediction of iron management genes and Fur regulation was carried out for three Acidithiobacilli: Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (iron and sulfur oxidizer) A. thiooxidans and A. caldus (sulfur oxidizers) that can live between pH 1 and pH 5 and for three strict iron oxidizers of the Leptospirillum genus that live at pH 1 or below.
Results
Acidithiobacilli have predicted FeoB-like Fe(II) and Nramp-like Fe(II)-Mn(II) transporters. They also have 14 different TonB dependent ferri-siderophore transporters of diverse siderophore affinity, although they do not produce classical siderophores. Instead they have predicted novel mechanisms for dicitrate synthesis and possibly also for phosphate-chelation mediated iron uptake. It is hypothesized that the unexpectedly large number and diversity of Fe(III)-uptake systems confers versatility to this group of acidophiles, especially in higher pH environments (pH 4–5) where soluble iron may not be abundant. In contrast, Leptospirilla have only a FtrI-Fet3P-like permease and three TonB dependent ferri-dicitrate siderophore systems. This paucity of iron uptake systems could reflect their obligatory occupation of extremely low pH environments where high concentrations of soluble iron may always be available and were oxidized sulfur species might not compromise iron speciation dynamics. Presence of bacterioferritin in the Acidithiobacilli, polyphosphate accumulation functions and variants of FieF-like diffusion facilitators in both Acidithiobacilli and Leptospirilla, indicate that they may remove or store iron under conditions of variable availability. In addition, the Fe(II)-oxidizing capacity of both A. ferrooxidans and Leptospirilla could itself be a way to evade iron stress imposed by readily available Fe(II) ions at low pH. Fur regulatory sites have been predicted for a number of gene clusters including iron related and non-iron related functions in both the Acidithiobacilli and Leptospirilla, laying the foundation for the future discovery of iron regulated and iron-phosphate coordinated regulatory control circuits.
Conclusion
In silico analyses of the genomes of acidophilic bacteria are beginning to tease apart the mechanisms that mediate iron uptake and homeostasis in low pH environments. Initial models pinpoint significant differences in abundance and diversity of iron management mechanisms between Leptospirilla and Acidithiobacilli, and begin to reveal how these two groups respond to iron cycling and iron fluctuations in naturally acidic environments and in industrial operations. Niche partitions and ecological successions between acidophilic microorganisms may be partially explained by these observed differences. Models derived from these analyses pave the way for improved hypothesis testing and well directed experimental investigation. In addition, aspects of these models should challenge investigators to evaluate alternative iron management strategies in non-acidophilic model organisms.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-203
PMCID: PMC2631029  PMID: 19025650
3.  Transcriptomic Identification of Iron-Regulated and Iron-Independent Gene Copies within the Heavily Duplicated Trichomonas vaginalis Genome 
Genome Biology and Evolution  2012;4(10):1017-1029.
Gene duplication is an important evolutionary mechanism and no eukaryote has more duplicated gene families than the parasitic protist Trichomonas vaginalis. Iron is an essential nutrient for Trichomonas and plays a pivotal role in the establishment of infection, proliferation, and virulence. To gain insight into the role of iron in T. vaginalis gene expression and genome evolution, we screened iron-regulated genes using an oligonucleotide microarray for T. vaginalis and by comparative EST (expressed sequence tag) sequencing of cDNA libraries derived from trichomonads cultivated under iron-rich (+Fe) and iron-restricted (−Fe) conditions. Among 19,000 ESTs from both libraries, we identified 336 iron-regulated genes, of which 165 were upregulated under +Fe conditions and 171 under −Fe conditions. The microarray analysis revealed that 195 of 4,950 unique genes were differentially expressed. Of these, 117 genes were upregulated under +Fe conditions and 78 were upregulated under −Fe conditions. The results of both methods were congruent concerning the regulatory trends and the representation of gene categories. Under +Fe conditions, the expression of proteins involved in carbohydrate metabolism, particularly in the energy metabolism of hydrogenosomes, and in methionine catabolism was increased. The iron–sulfur cluster assembly machinery and certain cysteine proteases are of particular importance among the proteins upregulated under −Fe conditions. A unique feature of the T. vaginalis genome is the retention during evolution of multiple paralogous copies for a majority of all genes. Although the origins and reasons for this gene expansion remain unclear, the retention of multiple gene copies could provide an opportunity to evolve differential expression during growth in variable environmental conditions. For genes whose expression was affected by iron, we found that iron influenced the expression of only some of the paralogous copies, whereas the expression of the other paralogs was iron independent. This finding indicates a very stringent regulation of the differentially expressed paralogous genes in response to changes in the availability of exogenous nutrients and provides insight into the evolutionary rationale underlying massive paralog retention in the Trichomonas genome.
doi:10.1093/gbe/evs078
PMCID: PMC3490414  PMID: 22975721
gene duplication; iron; microarrays; EST analysis
4.  Acquisition of iron from transferrin and lactoferrin by the protozoan Leishmania chagasi. 
Infection and Immunity  1994;62(8):3262-3269.
Leishmania chagasi, the cause of South American visceral leishmaniasis, requires iron for its growth. However, the extent to which different iron sources can be utilized by the parasite is not known. To address this question, we studied acquisition of iron from lactoferrin and transferrin by the extracellular promastigote form of L. chagasi during growth in vitro. A promastigote growth medium based on minimal essential medium supplemented with iron-depleted serum supported promastigote growth only after the addition of exogenous iron. The addition of 8 microM iron chelated to lactoferrin or hemin resulted in normal promastigote growth. Ferritransferrin also supported promastigote growth, but only after a considerable lag. Promastigotes grown in all three iron sources generated similar amounts of hydroxyl radical upon exposure to hydrogen peroxide, indicating that none of these protected parasites against generation of this toxic radical. Promastigotes were able to take up 59Fe chelated to either transferrin or lactoferrin, although uptake from 59Fe-lactoferrin occurred more rapidly. 59Fe uptake from either 59Fe-transferrin or 59Fe-lactoferrin was inhibited by a 10-fold excess of unlabeled ferrilactoferrin, ferritransferrin, apolactoferrin, apotransferrin, or iron nitrilotriacetate but not ferritin or bovine serum albumin. There was no evidence for a role for parasite-derived siderophores or proteolytic cleavage of ferritransferrin or ferrilactoferrin in the acquisition of iron by promastigotes. Thus, L. chagasi promastigotes can acquire iron from hemin, ferrilactoferrin, or ferritransferrin. This capacity to utilize several iron sources may contribute to the organism's ability to survive in the diverse environments it encounters in the insect and mammalian hosts.
Images
PMCID: PMC302954  PMID: 8039896
5.  Iron Acquisition in Bacillus cereus: The Roles of IlsA and Bacillibactin in Exogenous Ferritin Iron Mobilization 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(2):e1003935.
In host-pathogen interactions, the struggle for iron may have major consequences on the outcome of the disease. To overcome the low solubility and bio-availability of iron, bacteria have evolved multiple systems to acquire iron from various sources such as heme, hemoglobin and ferritin. The molecular basis of iron acquisition from heme and hemoglobin have been extensively studied; however, very little is known about iron acquisition from host ferritin, a 24-mer nanocage protein able to store thousands of iron atoms within its cavity. In the human opportunistic pathogen Bacillus cereus, a surface protein named IlsA (Iron-regulated leucine rich surface protein type A) binds heme, hemoglobin and ferritin in vitro and is involved in virulence. Here, we demonstrate that IlsA acts as a ferritin receptor causing ferritin aggregation on the bacterial surface. Isothermal titration calorimetry data indicate that IlsA binds several types of ferritins through direct interaction with the shell subunits. UV-vis kinetic data show a significant enhancement of iron release from ferritin in the presence of IlsA indicating for the first time that a bacterial protein might alter the stability of the ferritin iron core. Disruption of the siderophore bacillibactin production drastically reduces the ability of B. cereus to utilize ferritin for growth and results in attenuated bacterial virulence in insects. We propose a new model of iron acquisition in B. cereus that involves the binding of IlsA to host ferritin followed by siderophore assisted iron uptake. Our results highlight a possible interplay between a surface protein and a siderophore and provide new insights into host adaptation of B. cereus and general bacterial pathogenesis.
Author Summary
Iron homeostasis is important for all living organisms; too much iron confers cell toxicity, and too little iron results in reduced cell fitness. While crucial for many cellular processes in both man and pathogens, a battle for this essential nutrient erupts during infection between the host and the invading bacteria. Iron is principally stored in ferritin, a large molecule able to bind several thousand iron ions. Although host ferritins represent a mine of iron for pathogens, studies of the mechanisms involved in its acquisition by bacteria are scarce. In the human opportunistic pathogen Bacillus cereus, the surface protein IlsA is able to bind several host iron sources in vitro. In this study, we show that IlsA acts as a ferritin receptor and enhances iron release from the ferritin through direct interaction with each ferritin subunit. Moreover, we demonstrate that the siderophore bacillibactin, a small secreted iron chelator, is essential for ferritin iron acquisition and takes part in B. cereus virulence. We propose a new iron acquisition model that provides new insights into bacterial host adaptation.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003935
PMCID: PMC3923779  PMID: 24550730
6.  Haemophilus Responses to Nutritional Immunity: Epigenetic and Morphological Contribution to Biofilm Architecture, Invasion, Persistence and Disease Severity 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003709.
In an effort to suppress microbial outgrowth, the host sequesters essential nutrients in a process termed nutritional immunity. However, inflammatory responses to bacterial insult can restore nutritional resources. Given that nutrient availability modulates virulence factor production and biofilm formation by other bacterial species, we hypothesized that fluctuations in heme-iron availability, particularly at privileged sites, would similarly influence Haemophilus biofilm formation and pathogenesis. Thus, we cultured Haemophilus through sequential heme-iron deplete and heme-iron replete media to determine the effect of transient depletion of internal stores of heme-iron on multiple pathogenic phenotypes. We observed that prior heme-iron restriction potentiates biofilm changes for at least 72 hours that include increased peak height and architectural complexity as compared to biofilms initiated from heme-iron replete bacteria, suggesting a mechanism for epigenetic responses that participate in the changes observed. Additionally, in a co-infection model for human otitis media, heme-iron restricted Haemophilus, although accounting for only 10% of the inoculum (90% heme-iron replete), represented up to 99% of the organisms recovered at 4 days. These data indicate that fluctuations in heme-iron availability promote a survival advantage during disease. Filamentation mediated by a SulA-related ortholog was required for optimal biofilm peak height and persistence during experimental otitis media. Moreover, severity of disease in response to heme-iron restricted Haemophilus was reduced as evidenced by lack of mucosal destruction, decreased erythema, hemorrhagic foci and vasodilatation. Transient restriction of heme-iron also promoted productive invasion events leading to the development of intracellular bacterial communities. Taken together, these data suggest that nutritional immunity, may, in fact, foster long-term phenotypic changes that better equip bacteria for survival at infectious sites.
Author Summary
Clinical management of upper and lower respiratory tract diseases caused by nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHI) is a significant socioeconomic burden. Therapies targeting the pathogenic lifestyle of NTHI remain non-existent due to a lack of understanding of host microenvironmental cues and bacterial responses that dictate NTHI persistence. Iron availability influences bacterial virulence traits and biofilm formation; yet, host sequestration of iron serves to restrict bacterial growth. We predicted that fluctuations in availability of iron-containing compounds, typically associated with infection, would impact NTHI pathogenesis. We demonstrated that transient restriction of heme-iron triggered an epigenetic developmental program that enhanced NTHI biofilm architecture, directly influenced by induced morphological changes in bacterial length. Heme-iron restricted bacteria were primed for survival in the mammalian middle ear, due in part to an observed reduction in host inflammation coinciding with a striking reduction in host mucosal epithelial damage, compared to that observed in response to heme-iron replete NTHI. Moreover, transiently restricted NTHI were more invasive of epithelial cells resulting in formation of intracellular bacterial communities. Our findings significantly advance our understanding of how host immune pressure and nutrient availability influence pathogenic behaviors that impact disease severity.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003709
PMCID: PMC3795038  PMID: 24130500
7.  Specific erythrocyte binding is an additional nutrient acquisition system for Trichomonas vaginalis 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1990;171(6):2165-2170.
Specific receptor-mediated binding by Trichomonas vaginalis of human erythrocytes was demonstrated. The ability of live parasites to internalize erythrocytes was also documented. In vitro growth assays during lipid-free and iron-limiting conditions that do not support the survival of T. vaginalis organisms showed that purified erythrocyte lipids and hemoglobin were each able to provide lipids and/or hemoglobin iron for trichomonal growth and multiplication. Parasites bound hemoglobin in a highly specific receptor-mediated fashion, and only the homologous unlabeled hemoglobin, but not lactoferrin and transferrin, competed with iodinated hemoglobin binding. Two antibody- crossreactive surface proteins of the parasites were identified as adhesins, and antibody to the individual adhesins inhibited T. vaginalis recognition and binding of erythrocytes. Finally, patient sera possessed antibody to the adhesins, showing the immunogenic nature and in vivo relevance of the trichomonad proteins during infection.
PMCID: PMC2187958  PMID: 2351937
8.  Iron uptake and increased intracellular enzyme activity follow host lactoferrin binding by Trichomonas vaginalis receptors 
Lactoferrin acquisition and iron uptake by pathogenic Trichomonas vaginalis was examined. Saturation binding kinetics were obtained for trichomonads using increasing amounts of radioiodinated lactoferrin, while no significant binding by transferrin under similar conditions was achieved. Only unlabeled lactoferrin successfully and stoichiometrically competed with 125I-labeled lactoferrin binding. Time course studies showed maximal lactoferrin binding by 30 min at 37 degrees C. Data suggest no internalization of bound lactoferrin. The accumulation of radioactivity in supernatants after incubation of T. vaginalis with 125I-labeled lactoferrin and washing in PBS suggested the presence of low affinity sites for this host macromolecule. Scatchard analysis indicated the presence of 90,000 receptors per trichomonad with an apparent Kd of 1.0 microM. Two trichomonad lactoferrin binding proteins were identified by affinity chromatography and immunoprecipitation of receptor-ligand complexes. A 30-fold accumulation of iron was achieved using 59Fe-lactoferrin when compared to the steady state concentration of bound lactoferrin. The activity of pyruvate/ferrodoxin oxidoreductase, an enzyme involved in trichomonal energy metabolism, increased more than sixfold following exposure of the parasites to lactoferrin, demonstrating a biologic response to the receptor-mediated binding of lactoferrin. These data suggest that T. vaginalis possesses specific receptors for biologically relevant host proteins and that these receptors contribute to the metabolic processes of the parasites.
PMCID: PMC2187462  PMID: 6088662
9.  The TvLEGU-1, a Legumain-Like Cysteine Proteinase, Plays a Key Role in Trichomonas vaginalis Cytoadherence 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:561979.
The goal of this paper was to characterize a Trichomonas vaginalis cysteine proteinase (CP) legumain-1 (TvLEGU-1) and determine its potential role as a virulence factor during T. vaginalis infection. A 30-kDa band, which migrates in three protein spots (pI~6.3, ~6.5, and ~6.7) with a different type and level of phosphorylation, was identified as TvLEGU-1 by one- and two-dimensional Western blot (WB) assays, using a protease-rich trichomonad extract and polyclonal antibodies produced against the recombinant TvLEGU-1 (anti-TvLEGU-1r). Its identification was confirmed by mass spectrometry. Immunofluorescence, cell binding, and WB assays showed that TvLEGU-1 is upregulated by iron at the protein level, localized on the trichomonad surface and in lysosomes and Golgi complex, bound to the surface of HeLa cells, and was found in vaginal secretions. Additionally, the IgG and Fab fractions of the anti-TvLEGU-1r antibody inhibited trichomonal cytoadherence up to 45%. Moreover, the Aza-Peptidyl Michael Acceptor that inhibited legumain proteolytic activity in live parasites also reduced levels of trichomonal cytoadherence up to 80%. In conclusion, our data show that the proteolytic activity of TvLEGU-1 is necessary for trichomonal adherence. Thus, TvLEGU-1 is a novel virulence factor upregulated by iron. This is the first report that a legumain-like CP plays a role in a pathogen cytoadherence.
doi:10.1155/2013/561979
PMCID: PMC3581150  PMID: 23509742
10.  Trichomonad invasion of the mucous layer requires adhesins, mucinases, and motility 
Sexually Transmitted Infections  1999;75(4):231-238.
BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVE: Trichomonas vaginalis, the causal agent of trichomonosis, is a flagellated parasitic protozoan that colonises the epithelial cells of the human urogenital tract. The ability of T vaginalis to colonise this site is in part a function of its ability to circumvent a series of non-specific host defences including the mucous layer covering epithelial cells at the site of infection. Mucin, the framework molecule of mucus, forms a lattice structure that serves as a formidable physical barrier to microbial invasion. The mechanism by which trichomonads traverse the mucous covering is unknown. Proteolytic degradation of mucin, however, may provide for a mechanism to penetrate this layer. The goal, therefore, was to determine how trichomonads cross through a mucous layer. METHODS: Secreted trichomonad proteinases were analysed for mucinase activity by mucin substrate-sodium dodecyl sulphate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The importance of trichomonad mucinases for traversing the mucous layer was examined on an artificial mucin layer in invasion chambers. Adherence to mucin and tissue culture cells was measured using a microtitre plate assay. RESULTS: Trichomonad isolate 24402 secreted five proteinases when incubated in PBS. All five proteinases were shown to possess mucinase activity. These mucinases were able to degrade bovine submaxillary mucin and to a lesser extent porcine stomach mucin. These enzymes were active over a pH range of 4.5-7.0 and were inhibited with cysteine proteinase inhibitors. Furthermore, T vaginalis was shown to bind to mucin possibly via a lectin-like adhesin. Adherence to mucin was increased threefold when parasites were grown in iron deficient medium. Adherence to soluble mucin prevented attachment to HeLa cells. Proteinase activity, adherence, and motility were required for trichomonads to traverse a mucin layer in vitro. CONCLUSIONS: These results show that trichomonads can traverse the mucous barrier first by binding mucin followed by its proteolytic degradation. The data further underscore the importance of trichomonad proteinases in the pathogenesis of trichomonosis. Finally, this study suggests that interference with trichomonad mucin receptors and proteinases may be a strategy to prevent colonisation by this parasite. 



PMCID: PMC1758222  PMID: 10615308
11.  IlsA, A Unique Surface Protein of Bacillus cereus Required for Iron Acquisition from Heme, Hemoglobin and Ferritin 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(11):e1000675.
The human opportunistic pathogen Bacillus cereus belongs to the B. cereus group that includes bacteria with a broad host spectrum. The ability of these bacteria to colonize diverse hosts is reliant on the presence of adaptation factors. Previously, an IVET strategy led to the identification of a novel B. cereus protein (IlsA, Iron-regulated leucine rich surface protein), which is specifically expressed in the insect host or under iron restrictive conditions in vitro. Here, we show that IlsA is localized on the surface of B. cereus and hence has the potential to interact with host proteins. We report that B. cereus uses hemoglobin, heme and ferritin, but not transferrin and lactoferrin. In addition, affinity tests revealed that IlsA interacts with both hemoglobin and ferritin. Furthermore, IlsA directly binds heme probably through the NEAT domain. Inactivation of ilsA drastically decreases the ability of B. cereus to grow in the presence of hemoglobin, heme and ferritin, indicating that IlsA is essential for iron acquisition from these iron sources. In addition, the ilsA mutant displays a reduction in growth and virulence in an insect model. Hence, our results indicate that IlsA is a key factor within a new iron acquisition system, playing an important role in the general virulence strategy adapted by B. cereus to colonize susceptible hosts.
Author Summary
Iron is an essential compound for almost all living organisms, taking part in basic cellular homeostasis. Preventing access to iron sources for invading pathogens is one of the defense systems used by hosts to avoid pathogen colonization. To counteract this, pathogens have developed mechanisms to acquire nutrient iron during infection. Bacillus cereus is an opportunistic bacterium able to infect both insects and mammals; thus, it should have systems enabling iron uptake from these hosts. Here we describe, for the first time, a unique surface protein, called IlsA, which is essential for iron uptake from two very different iron binding molecules: ferritin and hemoglobin. IlsA is only produced in iron limited environments. We show that during insect infection, its expression is specific to insect hemocoel (blood), where ferritin is the major iron-binding molecule. Interestingly, the IlsA mutant has reduced survival in in vivo infection and in vitro when heme, hemoglobin and ferritin are the sole iron sources available. Thus, as IlsA is important for iron uptake from the major iron rich molecules in insects and mammals, we suggest that this new iron acquisition system may be a key factor that is evolutionary adapted to infection of such diverse hosts.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000675
PMCID: PMC2777315  PMID: 19956654
12.  Growth of Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the Female Mouse Genital Tract Does Not Require the Gonococcal Transferrin or Hemoglobin Receptors and May Be Enhanced by Commensal Lactobacilli  
Infection and Immunity  2002;70(5):2549-2558.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae is capable of utilizing a variety of iron sources in vitro, including human transferrin, human lactoferrin, hemoglobin, hemoglobin-haptoglobin complexes, heme, and heterologous siderophores. Transferrin has been implicated as a critical iron store for N. gonorrhoeae in the human male urethra. The demonstration that gonococci can infect the lower genital tracts of estradiol-treated BALB/c mice in the absence of human transferrin, however, suggests that other usable iron sources are present in the murine genital tract. Here we demonstrate that gonococcal transferrin and hemoglobin receptor mutants are not attenuated in mice, thereby ruling out transferrin and hemoglobin as essential for murine infection. An increased frequency of phase variants with the hemoglobin receptor “on” (Hg+) occurred in ca. 50% of infected mice; this increase was temporally associated with an influx of neutrophils and detectable levels of hemoglobin in the vagina, suggesting that the presence of hemoglobin in inflammatory exudates selects for Hg+ phase variants during infection. We also demonstrate that commensal lactobacilli support the growth of N. gonorrhoeae in vitro unless an iron chelator is added to the medium. We hypothesize that commensal lactobacilli may enhance growth of gonococci in vivo by promoting the solubilization of iron on mucosal surfaces through the production of metabolic intermediates. Finally, transferrin-binding lipoprotein (TbpB) was detected on gonococci in vaginal smears, suggesting that although gonococci replicate within the genital tracts of mice, they may be sufficiently iron-stressed to express iron-repressible proteins. In summary, these studies support the potential role of nontransferrin, nonhemoglobin iron sources during gonococcal infection of the female genital tract.
doi:10.1128/IAI.70.5.2549-2558.2002
PMCID: PMC127891  PMID: 11953395
13.  Host Iron Binding Proteins Acting as Niche Indicators for Neisseria meningitidis 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5198.
Neisseria meningitidis requires iron, and in the absence of iron alters its gene expression to increase iron acquisition and to make the best use of the iron it has. During different stages of colonization and infection available iron sources differ, particularly the host iron-binding proteins haemoglobin, transferrin, and lactoferrin. This study compared the transcriptional responses of N. meningitidis, when grown in the presence of these iron donors and ferric iron, using microarrays.
Specific transcriptional responses to the different iron sources were observed, including genes that are not part of the response to iron restriction. Comparisons between growth on haemoglobin and either transferrin or lactoferrin identified changes in 124 and 114 genes, respectively, and 33 genes differed between growth on transferrin or lactoferrin. Comparison of gene expression from growth on haemoglobin or ferric iron showed that transcription is also affected by the entry of either haem or ferric iron into the cytoplasm. This is consistent with a model in which N. meningitidis uses the relative availability of host iron donor proteins as niche indicators.
Growth in the presence of haemoglobin is associated with a response likely to be adaptive to survival within the bloodstream, which is supported by serum killing assays that indicate growth on haemoglobin significantly increases survival, and the response to lactoferrin is associated with increased expression of epithelial cell adhesins and oxidative stress response molecules. The transferrin receptor is the most highly transcribed receptor and has the fewest genes specifically induced in its presence, suggesting this is the favoured iron source for the bacterium. Most strikingly, the responses to haemoglobin, which is associated with unrestricted growth, indicates a low iron transcriptional profile, associated with an aggressive phenotype that may be adaptive to access host iron sources but which may also underlie the lethal features of meningococcal septicaemia, when haemoglobin may become a major source of iron.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005198
PMCID: PMC2662411  PMID: 19352437
14.  Iron Acquisition from Transferrin by Candida albicans Depends on the Reductive Pathway  
Infection and Immunity  2005;73(9):5482-5492.
Host-pathogen interactions that alter virulence are influenced by critical nutrients such as iron. In humans, free iron is unavailable, being present only in high-affinity iron binding proteins such as transferrin. The fungal pathogen Candida albicans grows as a saprophyte on mucosal surfaces. Occasionally it invades systemically, and in this circumstance it will encounter transferrin iron. Here we report that C. albicans is able to acquire iron from transferrin. Iron-loaded transferrin restored growth to cultures arrested by iron deprivation, whereas apotransferrin was unable to promote growth. By using congenic strains, we have been able to show that iron uptake by C. albicans from transferrin was mediated by the reductive pathway (via FTR1). The genetically separate siderophore and heme uptake systems were not involved. FRE10 was required for a surface reductase activity and for efficient transferrin iron uptake activity in unbuffered medium. Other reductase genes were apparently up-regulated in medium buffered at pH 6.3 to 6.4, and the fre10−/− mutant had no effect under these conditions. Experiments in which transferrin was sequestered in a dialysis bag demonstrated that cell contact with the substrate was required for iron reduction and release. The requirement of FTR1 for virulence in a systemic infection model and its role in transferrin iron uptake raise the possibility that transferrin is a source of iron during systemic C. albicans infections.
doi:10.1128/IAI.73.9.5482-5492.2005
PMCID: PMC1231083  PMID: 16113264
15.  Relative importance of three iron-regulated outer membrane proteins for in vivo growth of Vibrio cholerae. 
Infection and Immunity  1996;64(5):1756-1761.
Iron is an essential nutrient to support the growth of most bacterial species. However, iron is not easily available to microorganisms infecting mammalian hosts, because it is largely sequestered by iron-binding proteins, such as transferrin or lactoferrin, or complexed to heme. In response to environmental iron stress, Vibrio cholerae produces the siderophore vibriobactin as well as a number of iron-induced outer membrane proteins. Previous data on the role of iron acquisition systems for the intraintestinal growth of mucosal pathogens such as V. cholerae are conflicting. In this report, we isolated mutants of V. cholerae with TnphoA fusions in each of viuA, hutA, and irgA, as well as strains mutant in each pair of these genes and all three simultaneously, to analyze the role of these iron-induced outer membrane protein receptors for in vivo growth of V. cholerae. The fusion between hutA and TnphoA in a single copy on the chromosome allowed the study of in vitro regulation of hutA in response to iron, fur, and irgB; transcription of hutA was tightly iron regulated (70-fold) and dependent on a functional Fur but did not require IrgB. To investigate the effects of mutations in these iron-induced outer membrane proteins on in vivo growth, we inoculated ileal loops in a rabbit model of infection. This avoids exposure of organisms to the potential killing effects of gastric acid, allows several logarithmic increases in growth in the in vivo environment, and facilitates direct comparison of multiple strains in the same animal to avoid any differences between animals. We grew each mutant to be tested in competition with the wild-type strain in the same loop, to provide an internal control. We confirmed that the inocula for these experiments were grown under conditions of iron stress prior to in vivo inoculation, by measuring the alkaline phosphatase activity of the iron-regulated fusion in each strain. The results confirmed that mutation of irgA produced a much more substantial in vivo growth defect than mutation of either hutA or viuA alone. Double mutants of irgA with either viuA or hutA, or the strain mutant in all three genes, showed an in vivo growth defect comparable to the strain mutant in irgA only, suggesting that mutation of irgA was the most relevant for in vivo growth. The strain mutant in both hutA and viuA was also markedly impaired for in vivo growth, suggesting that mutation of both of these iron uptake systems simultaneously can also produce a substantial in vivo growth defect.
PMCID: PMC173989  PMID: 8613388
16.  Wolbachia Interferes with Ferritin Expression and Iron Metabolism in Insects 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(10):e1000630.
Wolbachia is an intracellular bacterium generally described as being a facultative reproductive parasite. However, Wolbachia is necessary for oogenesis completion in the wasp Asobara tabida. This dependence has evolved recently as a result of interference with apoptosis during oogenesis. Through comparative transcriptomics between symbiotic and aposymbiotic individuals, we observed a differential expression of ferritin, which forms a complex involved in iron storage. Iron is an essential element that is in limited supply in the cell. However, it is also a highly toxic precursor of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). Ferritin has also been shown to play a key role in host–pathogen interactions. Measuring ferritin by quantitative RT-PCR, we confirmed that ferritin was upregulated in aposymbiotic compared to symbiotic individuals. Manipulating the iron content in the diet, we showed that iron overload markedly affected wasp development and induced apoptotic processes during oogenesis in A. tabida, suggesting that the regulation of iron homeostasis may also be related to the obligate dependence of the wasp. Finally, we demonstrated that iron metabolism is influenced by the presence of Wolbachia not only in the obligate mutualism with A. tabida, but also in facultative parasitism involving Drosophila simulans and in Aedes aegypti cells. In these latter cases, the expression of Wolbachia bacterioferritin was also increased in the presence of iron, showing that Wolbachia responds to the concentration of iron. Our results indicate that Wolbachia may generally interfere with iron metabolism. The high affinity of Wolbachia for iron might be due to physiological requirement of the bacterium, but it could also be what allows the symbiont to persist in the organism by reducing the labile iron concentration, thus protecting the cell from oxidative stress and apoptosis. These findings also reinforce the idea that pathogenic, parasitic and mutualistic intracellular bacteria all use the same molecular mechanisms to survive and replicate within host cells. By impacting the general physiology of the host, the presence of a symbiont may select for host compensatory mechanisms, which extends the possible consequences of persistent endosymbiont on the evolution of their hosts.
Author Summary
Wolbachia are intracellular bacteria that infect numerous invertebrate species, where they are generally facultative for their host. Surprisingly, the wasp Asobara tabida is dependent on Wolbachia for egg production: in uninfected females, the cells necessary for egg maturation die prematurely as a result of apoptosis. When we analyzed the genetic basis of this dependence, we found that ferritin, a protein involved in the regulation of iron homeostasis, was over-expressed in uninfected individuals. We also found that Wolbachia interferes with iron metabolism and ferritin expression in other host–Wolbachia associations. Furthermore, Wolbachia itself responds to changes in iron concentration by changing the expression of bacterioferritin. Iron is in short supply within the cell, and is necessary for both host and symbiont; our findings highlight the key role of iron in host–symbiont interactions, as had previously been shown for host–pathogen interactions. Furthermore, iron homeostasis is involved in the regulation of oxidative stress, which in turn is involved in inducing cell death. Wolbachia could also interfere with iron in a way that limits oxidative stress and cell death, thus promoting its persistence within host cells. In A. tabida, we show that iron induced cell death in the ovaries, suggesting that iron metabolism could also be linked to the evolution of dependence.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000630
PMCID: PMC2759286  PMID: 19851452
17.  Pyrophosphate-Mediated Iron Acquisition from Transferrin in Neisseria meningitidis Does Not Require TonB Activity 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e107612.
The ability to acquire iron from various sources has been demonstrated to be a major determinant in the pathogenesis of Neisseria meningitidis. Outside the cells, iron is bound to transferrin in serum, or to lactoferrin in mucosal secretions. Meningococci can extract iron from iron-loaded human transferrin by the TbpA/TbpB outer membrane complex. Moreover, N. meningitidis expresses the LbpA/LbpB outer membrane complex, which can extract iron from iron-loaded human lactoferrin. Iron transport through the outer membrane requires energy provided by the ExbB-ExbD-TonB complex. After transportation through the outer membrane, iron is bound by periplasmic protein FbpA and is addressed to the FbpBC inner membrane transporter. Iron-complexing compounds like citrate and pyrophosphate have been shown to support meningococcal growth ex vivo. The use of iron pyrophosphate as an iron source by N. meningitidis was previously described, but has not been investigated. Pyrophosphate was shown to participate in iron transfer from transferrin to ferritin. In this report, we investigated the use of ferric pyrophosphate as an iron source by N. meningitidis both ex vivo and in a mouse model. We showed that pyrophosphate was able to sustain N. meningitidis growth when desferal was used as an iron chelator. Addition of a pyrophosphate analogue to bacterial suspension at millimolar concentrations supported N. meningitidis survival in the mouse model. Finally, we show that pyrophosphate enabled TonB-independent ex vivo use of iron-loaded human or bovine transferrin as an iron source by N. meningitidis. Our data suggest that, in addition to acquiring iron through sophisticated systems, N. meningitidis is able to use simple strategies to acquire iron from a wide range of sources so as to sustain bacterial survival.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107612
PMCID: PMC4189776  PMID: 25290693
18.  Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Is a Surface-Associated, Fibronectin-Binding Protein of Trichomonas vaginalis ▿  
Infection and Immunity  2009;77(7):2703-2711.
Trichomonas vaginalis colonizes the urogenital tract of humans and causes trichomonosis, the most prevalent nonviral sexually transmitted disease. We have shown an association of T. vaginalis with basement membrane extracellular matrix components, a property which we hypothesize is important for colonization and persistence. In this study, we identify a fibronectin (FN)-binding protein of T. vaginalis. A monoclonal antibody (MAb) from a library of hybridomas that inhibited the binding of T. vaginalis organisms to immobilized FN was identified. The MAb (called ws1) recognized a 39-kDa protein and was used to screen a cDNA expression library of T. vaginalis. A 1,086-bp reactive cDNA clone that encoded a protein of 362 amino acids with identity to glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) was obtained. The gapdh gene was cloned, and recombinant GAPDH (rGAPDH) was expressed in Escherichia coli cells. Natural GAPDH and rGAPDH bound to immobilized FN and to plasminogen and collagen but not to laminin. MAb ws1 inhibited binding to FN. GAPDH was detected on the surface of trichomonads and was upregulated in synthesis and surface expression by iron. Higher levels of binding to FN were seen for organisms grown in iron-replete medium than for organisms grown in iron-depleted medium. In addition, decreased synthesis of GAPDH by antisense transfection of T. vaginalis gave lower levels of organisms bound to FN and had no adverse effect on growth kinetics. Finally, GAPDH did not associate with immortalized vaginal epithelial cells (VECs), and neither GAPDH nor MAb ws1 inhibited the adherence of trichomonads to VECs. These results indicate that GAPDH is a surface-associated protein of T. vaginalis with alternative functions.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00157-09
PMCID: PMC2708568  PMID: 19380472
19.  The Hyphal-Associated Adhesin and Invasin Als3 of Candida albicans Mediates Iron Acquisition from Host Ferritin 
PLoS Pathogens  2008;4(11):e1000217.
Iron sequestration by host iron-binding proteins is an important mechanism of resistance to microbial infections. Inside oral epithelial cells, iron is stored within ferritin, and is therefore not usually accessible to pathogenic microbes. We observed that the ferritin concentration within oral epithelial cells was directly related to their susceptibility to damage by the human pathogenic fungus, Candida albicans. Thus, we hypothesized that host ferritin is used as an iron source by this organism. We found that C. albicans was able to grow on agar at physiological pH with ferritin as the sole source of iron, while the baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae could not. A screen of C. albicans mutants lacking components of each of the three known iron acquisition systems revealed that only the reductive pathway is involved in iron utilization from ferritin by this fungus. Additionally, C. albicans hyphae, but not yeast cells, bound ferritin, and this binding was crucial for iron acquisition from ferritin. Transcriptional profiling of wild-type and hyphal-defective C. albicans strains suggested that the C. albicans invasin-like protein Als3 is required for ferritin binding. Hyphae of an Δals3 null mutant had a strongly reduced ability to bind ferritin and these mutant cells grew poorly on agar plates with ferritin as the sole source of iron. Heterologous expression of Als3, but not Als1 or Als5, two closely related members of the Als protein family, allowed S. cerevisiae to bind ferritin. Immunocytochemical localization of ferritin in epithelial cells infected with C. albicans showed ferritin surrounding invading hyphae of the wild-type, but not the Δals3 mutant strain. This mutant was also unable to damage epithelial cells in vitro. Therefore, C. albicans can exploit iron from ferritin via morphology dependent binding through Als3, suggesting that this single protein has multiple virulence attributes.
Author Summary
Iron is an essential nutrient for all microbes. Many human pathogenic microbes have developed sophisticated strategies to acquire iron from the host as most compartments in the body contain little free iron. For example, in oral epithelial cells intracellular iron is bound to ferritin, a protein that is highly resistant to microbial attack. In fact, no microorganism has so far been shown to directly exploit ferritin as an iron source during interaction with host cells. This study demonstrates that the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans can use ferritin as the sole source of iron. Most intriguingly, C. albicans binds ferritin via a receptor that is only exposed on invasive hyphae. This receptor is Als3, which is a member of the Als-protein family. Als3 was previously demonstrated to be an adhesin with invasin-like properties. Mutants lacking Als3 failed to bind ferritin, grew poorly with ferritin as an iron source and were unable to damage epithelial cells. Strains of the baker's yeast expressing C. albicans Als3, but not two closely related proteins, Als1 or Als5, were able to bind ferritin. Therefore, C. albicans uses an additional morphology specific and unique iron uptake strategy based on ferritin while invading into host cells where ferritin is located.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000217
PMCID: PMC2581891  PMID: 19023418
20.  Leishmania donovani depletes labile iron pool to exploit iron uptake capacity of macrophage for its intracellular growth 
Cellular Microbiology  2008;11(1):83-94.
Intracellular pathogens employ several strategies for iron acquisition from host macrophages for survival and growth, whereas macrophage resists infection by actively sequestering iron. Here, we show that instead of allowing macrophage to sequester iron, protozoan parasite Leishmania donovani (LD) uses a novel strategy to manipulate iron uptake mechanisms of the host and utilizes the taken up iron for its intracellular growth. To do so, intracellular LD directly scavenges iron from labile iron pool of macrophages. Depleted labile iron pool activates iron sensors iron-regulatory proteins IRP1 and IRP2. IRPs then bind to iron-responsive elements present in the 3′ UTR of iron uptake gene transferrin receptor 1 by a post-transcriptional mRNA stability mechanism. Increased iron-responsive element–IRP interaction and transferrin receptor 1 expressions in spleen-derived macrophages from LD-infected mice confirm that LD employs similar mechanism to acquire iron during infection into mammalian hosts. Increased intracellular LD growth by holo-transferrin supplementation and inhibited growth by iron chelator treatment confirm the significance of this modulated iron uptake pathway of host in favour of the parasite.
doi:10.1111/j.1462-5822.2008.01241.x
PMCID: PMC2774478  PMID: 18823384
21.  Iron and contact with host cells induce expression of adhesins on surface of Trichomonas vaginalis 
Molecular microbiology  2003;47(5):1207-1224.
Summary
The proteins AP65, AP51, AP33 and AP23 synthesized by Trichomonas vaginalis organisms in high iron play a role in adherence. Multigene families encode enzymes of the hydrogenosome organelles, which have identity to adhesins. This fact raises questions regarding the compartmentalization of the proteins outside the organelle and about the interactions of adhesins with host cells. Data here demonstrate the presence of the proteins outside the organelle under high-iron conditions. Fluorescence and immunocytochemical experiments show that high-iron-grown organisms coexpressed adhesins on the surface and intracellularly in contrast with low-iron parasites. Furthermore, the AP65 epitopes seen by rabbit anti-AP65 serum that blocks adherence and detects surface proteins were identified, and a mAb reacting to those epitopes recognized the trichomonal surface. Two-dimensional electrophoresis and immunoblot of adhesins from surface-labelled parasites provided evidence that all members of the multigene family were co-ordinately expressed and placed on the trichomonal surface. Similar two-dimensional analysis of proteins from purified hydrogenosomes obtained from iodinated trichomonads confirmed the specific surface labelling of proteins. Contact of trichomonads with vaginal epithelial cells increased the amount of surface-expressed adhesins. Moreover, we found a direct relationship between the levels of adherence and amount of adhesins bound to immortalized vaginal and ureter epithelial cells, further reinforcing specific associations. Finally, trichomonads of MR100, a drug-resistant isolate absent in hydrogenosome proteins and adhesins, were non-adherent. Overall, the results confirm an important role for iron and contact in the surface expression of adhesins of T. vaginalis organisms.
PMCID: PMC2562637  PMID: 12603729
22.  Iron – A Key Nexus in the Virulence of Aspergillus fumigatus 
Iron is an essential but, in excess, toxic nutrient. Therefore, fungi evolved fine-tuned mechanisms for uptake and storage of iron, such as the production of siderophores (low-molecular mass iron-specific chelators). In Aspergillus fumigatus, iron starvation causes extensive transcriptional remodeling involving two central transcription factors, which are interconnected in a negative transcriptional feed-back loop: the GATA-factor SreA and the bZip-factor HapX. During iron sufficiency, SreA represses iron uptake, including reductive iron assimilation and siderophore-mediated iron uptake, to avoid toxic effects. During iron starvation, HapX represses iron-consuming pathways, including heme biosynthesis and respiration, to spare iron and activates synthesis of ribotoxin AspF1 and siderophores, the latter partly by ensuring supply of the precursor, ornithine. In accordance with the expression pattern and mode of action, detrimental effects of inactivation of SreA and HapX are confined to growth during iron sufficiency and iron starvation, respectively. Deficiency in HapX, but not SreA, attenuates virulence of A. fumigatus in a murine model of aspergillosis, which underlines the crucial role of adaptation to iron limitation in virulence. Consistently, production of both extra and intracellular siderophores is crucial for virulence of A. fumigatus. Recently, the sterol regulatory element binding protein SrbA was found to be essential for adaptation to iron starvation, thereby linking regulation of iron metabolism, ergosterol biosynthesis, azole drug resistance, and hypoxia adaptation.
doi:10.3389/fmicb.2012.00028
PMCID: PMC3272694  PMID: 22347220
iron; virulence; fungi; siderophore; isoprenoid; ergosterol; mevalonate; ornithine
23.  Iron Status in Mice Carrying a Targeted Disruption of Lactoferrin 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(1):178-185.
Lactoferrin is a member of the transferrin family of iron-binding glycoproteins present in milk, mucosal secretions, and the secondary granules of neutrophils. While several physiological functions have been proposed for lactoferrin, including the regulation of intestinal iron uptake, the exact function of this protein in vivo remains to be established. To directly assess the physiological functions of lactoferrin, we have generated lactoferrin knockout (LFKO−/−) mice by homologous gene targeting. LFKO−/− mice are viable and fertile, develop normally, and display no overt abnormalities. A comparison of the iron status of suckling offspring from LFKO−/− intercrosses and from wild-type (WT) intercrosses showed that lactoferrin is not essential for iron delivery during the postnatal period. Further, analysis of adult mice on a basal or a high-iron diet revealed no differences in transferrin saturation or tissue iron stores between WT and LFKO−/− mice on either diet, although the serum iron levels were slightly elevated in LFKO-/- mice on the basal diet. Consistent with the relatively normal iron status, in situ hybridization analysis demonstrated that lactoferrin is not expressed in the postnatal or adult intestine. Collectively, these results support the conclusion that lactoferrin does not play a major role in the regulation of iron homeostasis.
doi:10.1128/MCB.23.1.178-185.2003
PMCID: PMC140657  PMID: 12482971
24.  Helicobacter pylori Perturbs Iron Trafficking in the Epithelium to Grow on the Cell Surface 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(5):e1002050.
Helicobacter pylori (Hp) injects the CagA effector protein into host epithelial cells and induces growth factor-like signaling, perturbs cell-cell junctions, and alters host cell polarity. This enables Hp to grow as microcolonies adhered to the host cell surface even in conditions that do not support growth of free-swimming bacteria. We hypothesized that CagA alters host cell physiology to allow Hp to obtain specific nutrients from or across the epithelial barrier. Using a polarized epithelium model system, we find that isogenic ΔcagA mutants are defective in cell surface microcolony formation, but exogenous addition of iron to the apical medium partially rescues this defect, suggesting that one of CagA's effects on host cells is to facilitate iron acquisition from the host. Hp adhered to the apical epithelial surface increase basolateral uptake of transferrin and induce its transcytosis in a CagA-dependent manner. Both CagA and VacA contribute to the perturbation of transferrin recycling, since VacA is involved in apical mislocalization of the transferrin receptor to sites of bacterial attachment. To determine if the transferrin recycling pathway is involved in Hp colonization of the cell surface, we silenced transferrin receptor expression during infection. This resulted in a reduced ability of Hp to colonize the polarized epithelium. To test whether CagA is important in promoting iron acquisition in vivo, we compared colonization of Hp in iron-replete vs. iron-deficient Mongolian gerbils. While wild type Hp and ΔcagA mutants colonized iron-replete gerbils at similar levels, ΔcagA mutants are markedly impaired in colonizing iron-deficient gerbils. Our study indicates that CagA and VacA act in concert to usurp the polarized process of host cell iron uptake, allowing Hp to use the cell surface as a replicative niche.
Author Summary
Helicobacter pylori (Hp) is a bacterium that chronically infects the stomach of humans and can lead to serious illness. To survive in the stomach, the bacteria intimately interact with the epithelial lining. Some inject the virulence protein CagA into the host cells, and we previously showed that CagA helps Hp survive and grow directly on the epithelial cell surface. Iron is one of the limiting factors that infectious bacteria must acquire from their host. Using a model polarized epithelium system, we discovered that CagA is able to alter the internalization, intracellular transport, and polarity of the transferrin/transferrin receptor iron uptake system. This allows the bacteria to shuttle iron across the epithelium and suggests a novel mechanism of iron acquisition from host cells, enabling Hp growth on the cell surface. Another major virulence factor of Hp, VacA, is also involved in this process. To test the role of CagA in iron acquisition in vivo, we infected iron-deficient Mongolian gerbils and found that CagA-deficient bacteria had a decreased ability to colonize the stomach. Our study illustrates how microbes that chronically infect our mucosal surfaces can manipulate the epithelium to acquire micronutrients from host cells and grow on the cell surface.
doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1002050
PMCID: PMC3093365  PMID: 21589900
25.  Burkholderia pseudomallei Known Siderophores and Hemin Uptake Are Dispensable for Lethal Murine Melioidosis 
Burkholderia pseudomallei is a mostly saprophytic bacterium, but can infect humans where it causes the difficult-to-manage disease melioidosis. Even with proper diagnosis and prompt therapeutic interventions mortality rates still range from >20% in Northern Australia to over 40% in Thailand. Surprisingly little is yet known about how B. pseudomallei infects, invades and survives within its hosts, and virtually nothing is known about the contribution of critical nutrients such as iron to the bacterium's pathogenesis. It was previously assumed that B. pseudomallei used iron-acquisition systems commonly found in other bacteria, for example siderophores. However, our previous discovery of a clinical isolate carrying a large chromosomal deletion missing the entire malleobactin gene cluster encoding the bacterium's major high-affinity siderophore while still being fully virulent in a murine melioidosis model suggested that other iron-acquisition systems might make contributions to virulence. Here, we deleted the major siderophore malleobactin (mba) and pyochelin (pch) gene clusters in strain 1710b and revealed a residual siderophore activity which was unrelated to other known Burkholderia siderophores such as cepabactin and cepaciachelin, and not due to increased secretion of chelators such as citrate. Deletion of the two hemin uptake loci, hmu and hem, showed that Hmu is required for utilization of hemin and hemoglobin and that Hem cannot complement a Hmu deficiency. Prolonged incubation of a hmu hem mutant in hemoglobin-containing minimal medium yielded variants able to utilize hemoglobin and hemin suggesting alternate pathways for utilization of these two host iron sources. Lactoferrin utilization was dependent on malleobactin, but not pyochelin synthesis and/or uptake. A mba pch hmu hem quadruple mutant could use ferritin as an iron source and upon intranasal infection was lethal in an acute murine melioidosis model. These data suggest that B. pseudomallei may employ a novel ferritin-iron acquisition pathway as a means to sustain in vivo growth.
Author Summary
Burkholderia pseudomallei is the etiologic agent of melioidosis, a multifaceted deadly and difficult to treat disease of equatorial regions of the world. Disease manifestations range from acute infections to long term chronic infections. The factors by which this bacterium causes disease are not yet well understood. Studies thus far focused on elucidation of the roles of traditional virulence factors such as secreted proteins and exopolysaccharides, but virtually nothing is known about the roles of nutrient acquisition systems in B. pseudomallei's survival in its mammalian hosts. One nutrient that is essential for bacterial metabolism and pathogenicity is iron. As free iron is not readily available in nature, bacteria developed numerous mechanisms for iron acquisition from abiotic and biotic sources. These mechanisms include siderophores and hemin/hemoglobin utilization systems, and it is therefore not too surprising that mutants defective in these systems are often impaired in virulence. In this study we show that defined B. pseudomallei mutants defective in siderophore and hemin/hemoglobin utilization systems remain fully lethal in a murine melioidosis model and present evidence for in vitro ferritin-iron acquisition which may be one or perhaps the main means by which this pathogen sustains in vivo growth.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001715
PMCID: PMC3383733  PMID: 22745846

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