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1.  Chromosomal Transfers in Mycoplasmas: When Minimal Genomes Go Mobile 
mBio  2014;5(6):e01958-14.
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a main driving force of bacterial evolution and innovation. This phenomenon was long thought to be marginal in mycoplasmas, a large group of self-replicating bacteria characterized by minute genomes as a result of successive gene losses during evolution. Recent comparative genomic analyses challenged this paradigm, but the occurrence of chromosomal exchanges had never been formally addressed in mycoplasmas. Here, we demonstrated the conjugal transfer of large chromosomal regions within and among ruminant mycoplasma species, with the incorporation of the incoming DNA occurring by homologous recombination into the recipient chromosome. By combining classical mating experiments with high-throughput next-generation sequencing, we documented the transfer of almost every position of the mycoplasma chromosome. Mycoplasma conjugation relies on the occurrence of an integrative conjugative element (ICE) in at least one parent cell. While ICE propagates horizontally from ICE-positive to ICE-negative cells, chromosomal transfers (CTs) occurred in the opposite direction, from ICE-negative to ICE-positive cells, independently of ICE movement. These findings challenged the classical mechanisms proposed for other bacteria in which conjugative CTs are driven by conjugative elements, bringing into the spotlight a new means for rapid mycoplasma innovation. Overall, they radically change our current views concerning the evolution of mycoplasmas, with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
Horizontal gene transfers (HGT) shape bacterial genomes and are key contributors to microbial diversity and innovation. One main mechanism involves conjugation, a process that allows the simultaneous transfer of significant amounts of DNA upon cell-to-cell contact. Recognizing and deciphering conjugal mechanisms are thus essential in understanding the impact of gene flux on bacterial evolution. We addressed this issue in mycoplasmas, the smallest and simplest self-replicating bacteria. In these organisms, HGT was long thought to be marginal. We showed here that nearly every position of the Mycoplasma agalactiae chromosome could be transferred via conjugation, using an unconventional mechanism. The transfer involved DNA blocks containing up to 80 genes that were incorporated into the host chromosome by homologous recombination. These findings radically change our views concerning mycoplasma evolution and adaptation with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC4251992  PMID: 25425234
2.  Experimental Infections with Mycoplasma agalactiae Identify Key Factors Involved in Host-Colonization 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93970.
Mechanisms underlying pathogenic processes in mycoplasma infections are poorly understood, mainly because of limited sequence similarities with classical, bacterial virulence factors. Recently, large-scale transposon mutagenesis in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae identified the NIF locus, including nifS and nifU, as essential for mycoplasma growth in cell culture, while dispensable in axenic media. To evaluate the importance of this locus in vivo, the infectivity of two knock-out mutants was tested upon experimental infection in the natural host. In this model, the parental PG2 strain was able to establish a systemic infection in lactating ewes, colonizing various body sites such as lymph nodes and the mammary gland, even when inoculated at low doses. In these PG2-infected ewes, we observed over the course of infection (i) the development of a specific antibody response and (ii) dynamic changes in expression of M. agalactiae surface variable proteins (Vpma), with multiple Vpma profiles co-existing in the same animal. In contrast and despite a sensitive model, none of the knock-out mutants were able to survive and colonize the host. The extreme avirulent phenotype of the two mutants was further supported by the absence of an IgG response in inoculated animals. The exact role of the NIF locus remains to be elucidated but these data demonstrate that it plays a key role in the infectious process of M. agalactiae and most likely of other pathogenic mycoplasma species as many carry closely related homologs.
PMCID: PMC3974822  PMID: 24699671
3.  Draft Genome Sequences of Mycoplasma auris and Mycoplasma yeatsii, Two Species of the Ear Canal of Caprinae 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(3):e00280-13.
We report here the draft genome sequences of Mycoplasma auris and Mycoplasma yeatsii, two species commonly isolated from the external ear canal of Caprinae.
PMCID: PMC3707572  PMID: 23766401
4.  Draft Genome Sequences of Mycoplasma alkalescens, Mycoplasma arginini, and Mycoplasma bovigenitalium, Three Species with Equivocal Pathogenic Status for Cattle 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(3):e00348-13.
We report here the draft genome sequences of Mycoplasma alkalescens, Mycoplasma arginini, and Mycoplasma bovigenitalium. These three species are regularly isolated from bovine clinical specimens, although their role in disease is unclear.
PMCID: PMC3707579  PMID: 23766408
5.  Complete Genome Sequence of Mycoplasma putrefaciens Strain 9231, One of the Agents of Contagious Agalactia in Goats 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(3):e00354-13.
Mycoplasma putrefaciens is one of the etiologic agents of contagious agalactia in goats. We report herein the complete genome sequence of Mycoplasma putrefaciens strain 9231.
PMCID: PMC3707581  PMID: 23766410
6.  Emergence of Atypical Mycoplasma agalactiae Strains Harboring a New Prophage and Associated with an Alpine Wild Ungulate Mortality Episode 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(13):4659-4668.
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.
PMCID: PMC3370481  PMID: 22522685
7.  Genome-Scale Analysis of Mycoplasma agalactiae Loci Involved in Interaction with Host Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25291.
Mycoplasma agalactiae is an important pathogen of small ruminants, in which it causes contagious agalactia. It belongs to a large group of “minimal bacteria” with a small genome and reduced metabolic capacities that are dependent on their host for nutrients. Mycoplasma survival thus relies on intimate contact with host cells, but little is known about the factors involved in these interactions or in the more general infectious process. To address this issue, an assay based on goat epithelial and fibroblastic cells was used to screen a M. agalactiae knockout mutant library. Mutants with reduced growth capacities in cell culture were selected and 62 genomic loci were identified as contributing to this phenotype. As expected for minimal bacteria, “transport and metabolism” was the functional category most commonly implicated in this phenotype, but 50% of the selected mutants were disrupted in coding sequences (CDSs) with unknown functions, with surface lipoproteins being most commonly represented in this category. Since mycoplasmas lack a cell wall, lipoproteins are likely to be important in interactions with the host. A few intergenic regions were also identified that may act as regulatory sequences under co-culture conditions. Interestingly, some mutants mapped to gene clusters that are highly conserved across mycoplasma species but located in different positions. One of these clusters was found in a transcriptionally active region of the M. agalactiae chromosome, downstream of a cryptic promoter. A possible scenario for the evolution of these loci is discussed. Finally, several CDSs identified here are conserved in other important pathogenic mycoplasmas, and some were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant species. These results provide a basis for further deciphering functions mediating mycoplasma-host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3179502  PMID: 21966487
8.  Critical Role of Dispensable Genes in Mycoplasma agalactiae Interaction with Mammalian Cells▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(4):1542-1551.
Mycoplasmas are minimal bacteria whose genomes barely exceed the smallest amount of information required to sustain autonomous life. Despite this apparent simplicity, several mycoplasmas are successful pathogens of humans and animals, in which they establish intimate interactions with epithelial cells at mucosal surfaces. To identify biological functions mediating mycoplasma interactions with mammalian cells, we produced a library of transposon knockout mutants in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae and used this library to identify mutants displaying a growth-deficient pheonotype in cell culture. M. agalactiae mutants displaying a 3-fold reduction in CFU titers to nearly complete extinction in coculture with HeLa cells were identified. Mapping of transposon insertion sites revealed 18 genomic regions putatively involved in the interaction of M. agalactiae with HeLa cells. Several of these regions encode proteins with features of membrane lipoproteins and/or were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant pathogenic mycoplasmas of ruminants. Two mutants with the most extreme phenotype carry a transposon in a genomic region designated the NIF locus which encodes homologues of SufS and SufU, two proteins presumably involved in [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis in Gram-positive bacteria. Complementation studies confirmed the conditional essentiality of the NIF locus, which was found to be critical for proliferation in the presence of HeLa cells and several other mammalian cell lines but dispensable for axenic growth. While our results raised questions regarding essential functions in mycoplasmas, they also provide a means for studying the role of mycoplasmas as minimal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2849427  PMID: 20123713
9.  Guinea Pig-Adapted Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus with Altered Receptor Recognition Can Productively Infect a Natural Host▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(16):8497-8506.
We report that adaptation to infect the guinea pig did not modify the capacity of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) to kill suckling mice and to cause an acute and transmissible disease in the pig, an important natural host for this pathogen. Adaptive amino acid replacements (I248→T in 2C, Q44→R in 3A, and L147→P in VP1), selected upon serial passages of a type C FMDV isolated from swine (biological clone C-S8c1) in the guinea pig, were maintained after virus multiplication in swine and suckling mice. However, the adaptive replacement L147→P, next to the integrin-binding RGD motif at the GH loop in VP1, abolished growth of the virus in different established cell lines and modified its antigenicity. In contrast, primary bovine thyroid cell cultures could be productively infected by viruses with replacement L147→P, and this infection was inhibited by antibodies to αvβ6 and by an FMDV-derived RGD-containing peptide, suggesting that integrin αvβ6 may be used as a receptor for these mutants in the animal (porcine, guinea pig, and suckling mice) host. Substitution T248→N in 2C was not detectable in C-S8c1 but was present in a low proportion of the guinea pig-adapted virus. This substitution became rapidly dominant in the viral population after the reintroduction of the guinea pig-adapted virus into pigs. These observations illustrate how the appearance of minority variant viruses in an unnatural host can result in the dominance of these viruses on reinfection of the original host species.
PMCID: PMC1951369  PMID: 17522230
10.  Recovery of Infectious Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus from Suckling Mice after Direct Inoculation with In Vitro-Transcribed RNA 
Journal of Virology  2003;77(20):11290-11295.
We assayed the infectivity of naked foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) RNA by direct inoculation of suckling mice. Our results demonstrate that transcripts generated from full-length cDNA clones were infectious, as was virion-extracted RNA. Interestingly, infectious virus could be recovered from a mutant transcript encoding amino acid substitution L-147→P in capsid protein VP1, known to be noninfectious for BHK-21 cells. The model described here provides a useful tool for virulence studies in vivo, bypassing possible selection of variants during viral replication in cell culture.
PMCID: PMC224978  PMID: 14512578
11.  A Single Amino Acid Substitution in Nonstructural Protein 3A Can Mediate Adaptation of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus to the Guinea Pig 
Journal of Virology  2001;75(8):3977-3983.
The genetic changes selected during the adaptation of a clonal population of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) to the guinea pig have been analyzed. FMDV clone C-S8c1 was adapted to the guinea pig by serial passage in the animals until secondary lesions were observed. Analysis of the virus directly recovered from the lesions developed by the animals revealed the selection of variants with two amino acid substitutions in nonstructural proteins, I248→T in 2C and Q44→R in 3A. On further passages, an additional mutation, L147→P, was selected in an important antigenic site located in the G-H loop of capsid protein VP1. The amino acid substitution Q44→R in 3A, either alone or in combination with the replacement I248→T in 2C, was sufficient to give FMDV the ability to produce lesions. This was shown by using infectious transcripts which generated chimeric viruses with the relevant amino acid substitutions. Clinical symptoms produced by the artificial chimeras were similar to those produced by the naturally adapted virus. These results obtained with FMDV imply that one or very few replacements in nonstructural viral proteins, which should be within reach of the mutant spectra of replicating viral quasispecies, may result in adaptation of a virus to a new animal host.
PMCID: PMC114889  PMID: 11264387
12.  Production of Bovine Herpesvirus Type 1-Seronegative Latent Carriers by Administration of a Live-Attenuated Vaccine in Passively Immunized Calves 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2000;38(11):4233-4238.
The consequences of the vaccination of neonatal calves with the widely used live-attenuated temperature-sensitive (ts) bovine herpesvirus type 1 (BHV-1) were investigated. The ts strain established acute and latent infections in all vaccinated calves either with or without passive immunity. Four of seven calves vaccinated under passive immunity became clearly BHV-1 seronegative by different serological tests, as did uninfected control calves after the disappearance of maternal antibodies, and they remained so for long periods. A cell-mediated immune response was detected by a BHV-1 gamma interferon assay, but this test failed to detect the seronegative latent carriers (SNLCs). While they are not detected, SNLCs represent a threat for BHV-1-free herds or countries. This study demonstrates that SNLCs can be easily obtained by inoculation with a live-attenuated BHV-1 under passive immunity and that latent carrier animals without any antibody do exist. Consequently, this situation could represent a good model to experimentally produce SNLCs.
PMCID: PMC87570  PMID: 11060097
13.  Memory in Viral Quasispecies 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(8):3543-3547.
Biological adaptive systems share some common features: variation among their constituent elements and continuity of core information. Some of them, such as the immune system, are endowed with memory of past events. In this study we provide direct evidence that evolving viral quasispecies possess a molecular memory in the form of minority components that populate their mutant spectra. The experiments have involved foot-and-mouth disease virus populations with known evolutionary histories. The composition and behavior of the viral population in response to a selective constraint were influenced by past evolutionary history in a way that could not be predicted from examination of consensus nucleotide sequences of the viral populations. The molecular memory of the viral quasispecies influenced both the nature and the intensity of the response of the virus to a selective constraint.
PMCID: PMC111862  PMID: 10729128
14.  Cell Recognition by Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus That Lacks the RGD Integrin-Binding Motif: Flexibility in Aphthovirus Receptor Usage 
Journal of Virology  2000;74(4):1641-1647.
Cell surface molecules that can act as virus receptors may exert an important selective pressure on RNA viral quasispecies. Large population passages of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) in cell culture select for mutant viruses that render dispensable a highly conserved Arg-Gly-Asp (RGD) motif responsible for integrin receptor recognition. Here, we provide evidence that viability of recombinant FMDVs including a Asp-143→Gly change at the RGD motif was conditioned by a number of capsid substitutions selected upon FMDV evolution in cell culture. Multiply passaged FMDVs acquired the ability to infect human K-562 cells, which do not express integrin αvβ3. In contrast to previously described cell culture-adapted FMDVs, the RGD-independent infection did not require binding to the surface glycosaminoglycan heparan sulfate (HS). Viruses which do not bind HS and lack the RGD integrin-binding motif replicate efficiently in BHK-21 cells. Interestingly, FMDV mutants selected from the quasispecies for the inability to bind heparin regained sensitivity to inhibition by a synthetic peptide that represents the G-H loop of VP1. Thus, a single amino acid replacement leading to loss of HS recognition can shift preferential receptor usage of FMDV from HS to integrin. These results indicate at least three different mechanisms for cell recognition by FMDV and suggest a potential for this virus to use multiple, alternative receptors for entry even into the same cell type.
PMCID: PMC111638  PMID: 10644333
15.  Multiple Virulence Determinants of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus in Cell Culture 
Journal of Virology  1998;72(8):6362-6372.
Hypervirulent variants of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) of serotype C arise upon serial cytolytic or persistent infections in cell culture. A specific mutation in the internal ribosome entry site of persistent FMDV was previously associated with enhanced translation initiation activity that could contribute to the hypervirulent phenotype for BHK-21 cells. Here we report that several hypervirulent FMDV variants arising upon serial cytolytic passage show an invariant internal ribosome entry site but have a number of mutations affecting structural and nonstructural viral proteins. The construction of chimeric type O-type C infectious transcripts has allowed the mapping of a major determinant of hypervirulence to the viral capsid. Tissue culture-adapted FMDV displayed enhanced affinity for heparin, but binding to cell surface heparan sulfate moieties was not required for expression of the hypervirulent phenotype in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. Virulence was identical or even higher for glycosaminoglycan-deficient CHO cells than for wild-type CHO cells. FMDV variants with decreased affinity for heparin were selected from a high-binding parental population and analyzed. Substitutions associated with decreased heparin binding were located at positions 173 of capsid protein VP3 and 144 of capsid protein VP1. These substitutions had a moderate effect on virulence for BHK-21 cells but completely abrogated infection of CHO cells. The comparative results with several FMDV isolates show that (i) increased affinity for heparin and alterations in cell tropism may be mediated by a number of independent sites on the viral capsid and (ii) the same capsid modifications may have different effects on different cell types.
PMCID: PMC109783  PMID: 9658076

Results 1-15 (15)