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1.  The post-translational modification of the Clostridium difficile flagellin affects motility, cell surface properties and virulence 
Molecular Microbiology  2014;94(2):272-289.
Clostridium difficile is a prominent nosocomial pathogen, proliferating and causing enteric disease in individuals with a compromised gut microflora. We characterized the post-translational modification of flagellin in C. difficile 630. The structure of the modification was solved by nuclear magnetic resonance and shown to contain an N-acetylglucosamine substituted with a phosphorylated N-methyl-l-threonine. A reverse genetics approach investigated the function of the putative four-gene modification locus. All mutants were found to have truncated glycan structures by LC-MS/MS, taking into account bioinformatic analysis, we propose that the open reading frame CD0241 encodes a kinase involved in the transfer of the phosphate to the threonine, the CD0242 protein catalyses the addition of the phosphothreonine to the N-acetylglucosamine moiety and CD0243 transfers the methyl group to the threonine. Some mutations affected motility and caused cells to aggregate to each other and abiotic surfaces. Altering the structure of the flagellin modification impacted on colonization and disease recurrence in a murine model of infection, showing that alterations in the surface architecture of C. difficile vegetative cells can play a significant role in disease. We show that motility is not a requirement for colonization, but that colonization was compromised when the glycan structure was incomplete.
PMCID: PMC4441256  PMID: 25135277
2.  The HtrA-Like Protease CD3284 Modulates Virulence of Clostridium difficile 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(10):4222-4232.
In the past decade, Clostridium difficile has emerged as an important gut pathogen. Symptoms of C. difficile infection range from mild diarrhea to pseudomembranous colitis. Besides the two main virulence factors toxin A and toxin B, other virulence factors are likely to play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease. In other Gram-positive and Gram-negative pathogenic bacteria, conserved high-temperature requirement A (HtrA)-like proteases have been shown to have a role in protein homeostasis and quality control. This affects the functionality of virulence factors and the resistance of bacteria to (host-induced) environmental stresses. We found that the C. difficile 630 genome encodes a single HtrA-like protease (CD3284; HtrA) and have analyzed its role in vivo and in vitro through the creation of an isogenic ClosTron-based htrA mutant of C. difficile strain 630Δerm (wild type). In contrast to the attenuated phenotype seen with htrA deletion in other pathogens, this mutant showed enhanced virulence in the Golden Syrian hamster model of acute C. difficile infection. Microarray data analysis showed a pleiotropic effect of htrA on the transcriptome of C. difficile, including upregulation of the toxin A gene. In addition, the htrA mutant showed reduced spore formation and adherence to colonic cells. Together, our data show that htrA can modulate virulence in C. difficile.
PMCID: PMC4187886  PMID: 25047848
3.  Vaccination against Clostridium difficile using toxin fragments 
Gut Microbes  2014;5(2):225-232.
Clostridium difficile is a major cause of antibiotic associated diarrhea. Recently, we have shown that effective protection can be mediated in hamsters through the inclusion of specific recombinant fragments from toxin A and B in a systemically delivered vaccine. Interestingly while neutralizing antibodies to the binding domains of both toxin A and B are moderately protective, enhanced survival is observed when fragments from the glucosyltransferase region of toxin B replace those from the binding domain of this toxin. In this addendum, we discuss additional information that has been derived from such vaccination studies. This includes observations on efficacy and cross-protection against different ribotypes mediated by these vaccines and the challenges that remain for a vaccine which prevents clinical symptoms but not colonization. The use and value of vaccination both in the prevention of infection and for treatment of disease relapse will be discussed.
PMCID: PMC4063849  PMID: 24637800
Clostridium difficile; vaccination; toxin fragments; neutralizing antibodies; hamster models; diarrhea; colonization factors; glucosyltransferase activity; protection
4.  Protective Efficacy Induced by Recombinant Clostridium difficile Toxin Fragments 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(8):2851-2860.
Clostridium difficile is a spore-forming bacterium that can reside in animals and humans. C. difficile infection causes a variety of clinical symptoms, ranging from diarrhea to fulminant colitis. Disease is mediated by TcdA and TcdB, two large enterotoxins released by C. difficile during colonization of the gut. In this study, we evaluated the ability of recombinant toxin fragments to induce neutralizing antibodies in mice. The protective efficacies of the most promising candidates were then evaluated in a hamster model of disease. While limited protection was observed with some combinations, coadministration of a cell binding domain fragment of TcdA (TcdA-B1) and the glucosyltransferase moiety of TcdB (TcdB-GT) induced systemic IgGs which neutralized both toxins and protected vaccinated animals from death following challenge with two strains of C. difficile. Further characterization revealed that despite high concentrations of toxin in the gut lumens of vaccinated animals during the acute phase of the disease, pathological damage was minimized. Assessment of gut contents revealed the presence of TcdA and TcdB antibodies, suggesting that systemic vaccination with this pair of recombinant polypeptides can limit the disease caused by toxin production during C. difficile infection.
PMCID: PMC3719595  PMID: 23716610
5.  Susceptibility of Hamsters to Clostridium difficile Isolates of Differing Toxinotype 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64121.
Clostridium difficile is the most commonly associated cause of antibiotic associated disease (AAD), which caused ∼21,000 cases of AAD in 2011 in the U.K. alone. The golden Syrian hamster model of CDI is an acute model displaying many of the clinical features of C. difficile disease. Using this model we characterised three clinical strains of C. difficile, all differing in toxinotype; CD1342 (PaLoc negative), M68 (toxinotype VIII) & BI-7 (toxinotype III). The naturally occurring non-toxic strain colonised all hamsters within 1-day post challenge (d.p.c.) with high-levels of spores being shed in the faeces of animals that appeared well throughout the entire experiment. However, some changes including increased neutrophil influx and unclotted red blood cells were observed at early time points despite the fact that the known C. difficile toxins (TcdA, TcdB and CDT) are absent from the genome. In contrast, hamsters challenged with strain M68 resulted in a 45% mortality rate, with those that survived challenge remaining highly colonised. It is currently unclear why some hamsters survive infection, as bacterial & toxin levels and histology scores were similar to those culled at a similar time-point. Hamsters challenged with strain BI-7 resulted in a rapid fatal infection in 100% of the hamsters approximately 26 hr post challenge. Severe caecal pathology, including transmural neutrophil infiltrates and extensive submucosal damage correlated with high levels of toxin measured in gut filtrates ex vivo. These data describes the infection kinetics and disease outcomes of 3 clinical C. difficile isolates differing in toxin carriage and provides additional insights to the role of each toxin in disease progression.
PMCID: PMC3660315  PMID: 23704976
6.  Comprehensive Assignment of Roles for Salmonella Typhimurium Genes in Intestinal Colonization of Food-Producing Animals 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(4):e1003456.
Chickens, pigs, and cattle are key reservoirs of Salmonella enterica, a foodborne pathogen of worldwide importance. Though a decade has elapsed since publication of the first Salmonella genome, thousands of genes remain of hypothetical or unknown function, and the basis of colonization of reservoir hosts is ill-defined. Moreover, previous surveys of the role of Salmonella genes in vivo have focused on systemic virulence in murine typhoid models, and the genetic basis of intestinal persistence and thus zoonotic transmission have received little study. We therefore screened pools of random insertion mutants of S. enterica serovar Typhimurium in chickens, pigs, and cattle by transposon-directed insertion-site sequencing (TraDIS). The identity and relative fitness in each host of 7,702 mutants was simultaneously assigned by massively parallel sequencing of transposon-flanking regions. Phenotypes were assigned to 2,715 different genes, providing a phenotype–genotype map of unprecedented resolution. The data are self-consistent in that multiple independent mutations in a given gene or pathway were observed to exert a similar fitness cost. Phenotypes were further validated by screening defined null mutants in chickens. Our data indicate that a core set of genes is required for infection of all three host species, and smaller sets of genes may mediate persistence in specific hosts. By assigning roles to thousands of Salmonella genes in key reservoir hosts, our data facilitate systems approaches to understand pathogenesis and the rational design of novel cross-protective vaccines and inhibitors. Moreover, by simultaneously assigning the genotype and phenotype of over 90% of mutants screened in complex pools, our data establish TraDIS as a powerful tool to apply rich functional annotation to microbial genomes with minimal animal use.
Author Summary
Salmonella Typhimurium is a major cause of human diarrhoeal infections, usually acquired from chickens, pigs, cattle, or their products. To understand the basis of persistence and pathogenesis in these reservoir hosts, and to inform the design of novel vaccines and treatments, we generated a library of 7,702 S. Typhimurium mutants, each bearing an insertion at a random position in the genome. Using DNA sequencing, we identified the disrupted gene in each mutant and determined its relative abundance in a laboratory culture and after experimental infection of mice, chickens, pigs, and cattle. The method allowed large numbers of mutants to be investigated simultaneously, drastically reducing the number of animals required to perform a comprehensive screen. We identified mutants that grow in culture but do not survive in one or more of the animals. The genes disrupted in these mutants are inferred to be important for the infection process. Most of these genes were required in all three food-producing animals, but smaller subsets of genes may mediate persistence in a specific host species. The data provide the most comprehensive map of virulence-associated genes for any bacterial pathogen in natural hosts and are highly relevant for the design of control strategies.
PMCID: PMC3630085  PMID: 23637626
7.  The Anti-Sigma Factor TcdC Modulates Hypervirulence in an Epidemic BI/NAP1/027 Clinical Isolate of Clostridium difficile 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002317.
Nosocomial infections are increasingly being recognised as a major patient safety issue. The modern hospital environment and associated health care practices have provided a niche for the rapid evolution of microbial pathogens that are well adapted to surviving and proliferating in this setting, after which they can infect susceptible patients. This is clearly the case for bacterial pathogens such as Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) species, both of which have acquired resistance to antimicrobial agents as well as enhanced survival and virulence properties that present serious therapeutic dilemmas for treating physicians. It has recently become apparent that the spore-forming bacterium Clostridium difficile also falls within this category. Since 2000, there has been a striking increase in C. difficile nosocomial infections worldwide, predominantly due to the emergence of epidemic or hypervirulent isolates that appear to possess extended antibiotic resistance and virulence properties. Various hypotheses have been proposed for the emergence of these strains, and for their persistence and increased virulence, but supportive experimental data are lacking. Here we describe a genetic approach using isogenic strains to identify a factor linked to the development of hypervirulence in C. difficile. This study provides evidence that a naturally occurring mutation in a negative regulator of toxin production, the anti-sigma factor TcdC, is an important factor in the development of hypervirulence in epidemic C. difficile isolates, presumably because the mutation leads to significantly increased toxin production, a contentious hypothesis until now. These results have important implications for C. difficile pathogenesis and virulence since they suggest that strains carrying a similar mutation have the inherent potential to develop a hypervirulent phenotype.
Author Summary
Hospital infections are increasingly being recognised as a major patient safety issue with the hospital environment providing a niche for the rapid evolution of microbial pathogens that are well adapted to infecting susceptible patients. The spore-forming Clostridium difficile is one such bacterium, which causes disease in patients undergoing antibiotic therapy. Since 2000, there has been a striking increase in C. difficile infections due to the emergence of hypervirulent isolates that appear to possess extended antibiotic resistance and virulence properties. Here we use a genetic approach to identify a factor linked to the development of hypervirulence in C. difficile. This study shows that a naturally occurring mutation in a negative regulator of toxin production, the anti-sigma factor TcdC, is an important factor contributing to the development of hypervirulence in epidemic isolates, presumably because it leads to significantly increased toxin production. These results have important implications for C. difficile pathogenesis since they suggest that strains carrying a similar mutation have the inherent potential to develop a hypervirulent phenotype. This study has increased our understanding of how these new variant strains cause disease and why they are more harmful, which is critical for the development of improved strategies for preventing and treating these infections.
PMCID: PMC3192846  PMID: 22022270
8.  Infection of hamsters with the UK Clostridium difficile ribotype 027 outbreak strain R20291 
Journal of Medical Microbiology  2011;60(Pt 8):1174-1180.
Clostridium difficile is the main cause of antibiotic-associated disease, a disease of high socio-economical importance that has recently been compounded by the global spread of the 027 (BI/NAP1/027) ribotype. C. difficile cases attributed to ribotype 027 strains have high recurrence rates (up to 36 %) and increased disease severity. The hamster model of infection is widely accepted as an appropriate model for studying aspects of C. difficile host–pathogen interactions. Using this model we characterized the infection kinetics of the UK 2006 outbreak strain, R20291. Hamsters were orally given a dose of clindamycin, followed 5 days later with 10 000 C. difficile spores. All 100 % of the hamsters succumbed to infection with a mean time to the clinical end point of 46.7 h. Colonization of the caecum and colon were observed 12 h post-infection reaching a maximum of approximately 3×104 c.f.u. per organ, but spores were not detected until 24 h post-infection. At 36 h post-infection C. difficile numbers increased significantly to approximately 6×107 c.f.u. per organ where numbers remained high until the clinical end point. Increasing levels of in vivo toxin production coincided with increases in C. difficile numbers in organs reaching a maximum at 36 h post-infection in the caecum. Epithelial destruction and polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) recruitment occurred early on during infection (24 h) accumulating as gross microvilli damage, luminal PMN influx, and blood associated with mucosal muscle and microvilli. These data describe the fatal infection kinetics of the clinical UK epidemic C. difficile strain R20291 in the hamster infection model.
PMCID: PMC3167879  PMID: 21330415
9.  Analysis of the role of 13 major fimbrial subunits in colonisation of the chicken intestines by Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis reveals a role for a novel locus 
BMC Microbiology  2008;8:228.
Salmonella enterica is a facultative intracellular pathogen of worldwide importance. Over 2,500 serovars exist and infections in humans and animals may produce a spectrum of symptoms from enteritis to typhoid depending on serovar- and host-specific factors. S. Enteritidis is the most prevalent non-typhoidal serovar isolated from humans with acute diarrhoeal illness in many countries. Human infections are frequently associated with direct or indirect contact with contaminated poultry meat or eggs owing to the ability of the organism to persist in the avian intestinal and reproductive tract. The molecular mechanisms underlying colonisation of poultry by S. Enteritidis are ill-defined. Targeted and genome-wide mutagenesis of S. Typhimurium has revealed conserved and host-specific roles for selected fimbriae in intestinal colonisation of different hosts. Here we report the first systematic analysis of each chromosomally-encoded major fimbrial subunit of S. Enteritidis in intestinal colonisation of chickens.
The repertoire, organisation and sequence of the fimbrial operons within members of S. enterica were compared. No single fimbrial locus could be correlated with the differential virulence and host range of serovars by comparison of available genome sequences. Fimbrial operons were highly conserved among serovars in respect of gene number, order and sequence, with the exception of safA. Thirteen predicted major fimbrial subunit genes were separately inactivated by lambda Red recombinase-mediated linear recombination followed by P22/int transduction. The magnitude and duration of intestinal colonisation by mutant and parent strains was measured after oral inoculation of out-bred chickens. Whilst the majority of S. Enteritidis major fimbrial subunit genes played no significant role in colonisation of the avian intestines, mutations affecting pegA in two different S. Enteritidis strains produced statistically significant attenuation. Plasmid-mediated trans-complementation partially restored the colonisation phenotype.
We describe the fimbrial gene repertoire of the predominant non-typhoidal S. enterica serovar affecting humans and the role played by each predicted major fimbrial subunit in intestinal colonisation of the primary reservoir. Our data support a role for PegA in the colonisation of poultry by S. Enteritidis and aid the design of improved vaccines.
PMCID: PMC2644700  PMID: 19091138
10.  Ciprofloxacin-Resistant Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium Strains Are Difficult To Select in the Absence of AcrB and TolC 
It has been proposed that lack of a functional efflux system(s) will lead to a lower frequency of selection of resistance to fluoroquinolones and other antibiotics. We constructed five strains of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium SL1344 that lacked efflux gene components of resistance nodulation cell division pumps (acrB, acrD, acrF, acrBacrF, and tolC) plus three strains that lack genes that effect efflux gene expression (marA, soxS, and ramA) and a hypermutable strain (mutS::aph). Strains were exposed to ciprofloxacin at 2× the MIC in agar, in the presence and absence of Phe-Arg-β-naphthylamide, an efflux pump inhibitor. Mutants were selected from all strains except those lacking acrB, tolC, or acrBacrF. For strains from which mutants were selected, there were no significant differences between the frequencies of resistance. Except for mutants of the ramA::aph strain, two phenotypes arose: resistance to quinolones only and multiple antibiotic resistance (MAR). ramA::aph mutants were resistant to quinolones only, suggesting a role for ramA in MAR in S. enterica serovar Typhimurium. Phe-Arg-β-naphthylamide (20 μg/ml) had no effect on the frequencies of resistance or ciprofloxacin MICs. In conclusion, functional AcrB and TolC in S. enterica serovar Typhimurium are important for the selection of ciprofloxacin-resistant mutants.
PMCID: PMC1346778  PMID: 16377664

Results 1-10 (10)