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1.  Kinetics of Leptospira interrogans Infection in Hamsters after Intradermal and Subcutaneous Challenge 
Leptospirosis is a zoonosis caused by highly motile, helically shaped bacteria that penetrate the skin and mucous membranes through lesions or abrasions, and rapidly disseminate throughout the body. Although the intraperitoneal route of infection is widely used to experimentally inoculate hamsters, this challenge route does not represent a natural route of infection.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we describe the kinetics of disease and infection in hamster model of leptospirosis after subcutaneous and intradermal inoculation of Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni, strain Fiocruz L1-130. Histopathologic changes in and around the kidney, including glomerular and tubular damage and interstitial inflammatory changes, began on day 5, and preceded deterioration in renal function as measured by serum creatinine. Weight loss, hemoconcentration, increased absolute neutrophil counts (ANC) in the blood and hepatic dysfunction were first noted on day 6. Vascular endothelial growth factor, a serum marker of sepsis severity, became elevated during the later stages of infection. The burden of infection, as measured by quantitative PCR, was highest in the kidney and peaked on day 5 after intradermal challenge and on day 6 after subcutaneous challenge. Compared to subcutaneous challenge, intradermal challenge resulted in a lower burden of infection in both the kidney and liver on day 6, lower ANC and less weight loss on day 7.
The intradermal and subcutaneous challenge routes result in significant differences in the kinetics of dissemination and disease after challenge with L. interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain Fiocruz L1-130 at an experimental dose of 2×106 leptospires. These results provide new information regarding infection kinetics in the hamster model of leptospirosis.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is the most widespread bacterial infection transmitted from animals to man. Humans are exposed to infection when host animals that harbor the bacteria in their kidneys shed them in their urine. Human infections, caused by the bacterium Leptospira interrogans, frequently result in a life-threatening illness characterized by liver and kidney failure. In the hamster model of leptospirosis, signs of hepatic and renal dysfunction developed on days 6 and 7, respectively, after intradermal and subcutaneous inoculation of L. interrogans. Renal dysfunction was preceded by the development of inflammatory changes and the appearance of large numbers of leptospires in the kidney on day 5. On day 6, animals began to lose weight, became dehydrated, and had elevated numbers of neutrophils circulating in their bloodstream. Importantly, animals inoculated intradermally had lower numbers of bacteria in their liver and kidneys on day 6 than animals inoculated subcutaneously and lower weight loss and circulating neutrophil levels on day 7. These studies show that the hamster model of leptospirosis is similar to human infection and indicate that the route of infection has significant effects on the course of the illness.
PMCID: PMC4239013  PMID: 25411782
2.  Post-translational Modification of LipL32 during Leptospira interrogans Infection 
Leptospirosis, a re-emerging disease of global importance caused by pathogenic Leptospira spp., is considered the world's most widespread zoonotic disease. Rats serve as asymptomatic carriers of pathogenic Leptospira and are critical for disease spread. In such reservoir hosts, leptospires colonize the kidney, are shed in the urine, persist in fresh water and gain access to a new mammalian host through breaches in the skin.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Previous studies have provided evidence for post-translational modification (PTM) of leptospiral proteins. In the current study, we used proteomic analyses to determine the presence of PTMs on the highly abundant leptospiral protein, LipL32, from rat urine-isolated L. interrogans serovar Copenhageni compared to in vitro-grown organisms. We observed either acetylation or tri-methylation of lysine residues within multiple LipL32 peptides, including peptides corresponding to regions of LipL32 previously identified as epitopes. Intriguingly, the PTMs were unique to the LipL32 peptides originating from in vivo relative to in vitro grown leptospires. The identity of each modified lysine residue was confirmed by fragmentation pattern analysis of the peptide mass spectra. A synthetic peptide containing an identified tri-methylated lysine, which corresponds to a previously identified LipL32 epitope, demonstrated significantly reduced immunoreactivity with serum collected from leptospirosis patients compared to the peptide version lacking the tri-methylation. Further, a subset of the identified PTMs are in close proximity to the established calcium-binding and putative collagen-binding sites that have been identified within LipL32.
The exclusive detection of PTMs on lysine residues within LipL32 from in vivo-isolated L. interrogans implies that infection-generated modification of leptospiral proteins may have a biologically relevant function during the course of infection. Although definitive determination of the role of these PTMs must await further investigations, the reduced immune recognition of a modified LipL32 epitope suggests the intriguing possibility that LipL32 modification represents a novel mechanism of immune evasion within Leptospira.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis, caused by pathogenic Leptospira spp., constitutes an increasing global public health threat. Humans are accidental hosts, and acquire the disease primarily from contact with water sources that have been contaminated with urine from infected animals. Rats are asymptomatic carriers of infection and are critical for disease transmission to humans, particularly in urban slum environments. In this study, investigation of Leptospira directly isolated from the urine of infected rats showed acetylation or tri-methylation of the highly abundant leptospiral lipoprotein, LipL32. In comparison, Leptospira grown in culture did not result in any LipL32 lysine modifications. A synthetic peptide derived from LipL32 that incorporated a tri-methylated lysine modification exhibited less reactivity with serum from leptospirosis patients compared to an unmodified version of the peptide, suggesting LipL32 modifications may alter protein recognition by the immune response. This study reports, for the first time, modification of a Leptospira protein during infection, and suggests these modifications may have a functional consequence that contributes to bacterial persistence during infection.
PMCID: PMC4214626  PMID: 25356675
3.  Identification of Cell-Binding Adhesins of Leptospira interrogans 
Leptospirosis is a globally distributed bacterial infectious disease caused by pathogenic members of the genus Leptospira. Infection can lead to illness ranging from mild and non-specific to severe, with jaundice, kidney and liver dysfunction, and widespread endothelial damage. The adhesion of pathogenic Leptospira species (spp.), the causative agent of leptospirosis, to host tissue components is necessary for infection and pathogenesis. While it is well-established that extracellular matrix (ECM) components play a role in the interaction of the pathogen with host molecules, we have shown that pathogenic Leptospira interrogans binds to host cells more efficiently than to ECM components. Using in vitro phage display to select for phage clones that bind to EA.hy926 endothelial cells, we identified the putative lipoproteins LIC10508 and LIC13411, and the conserved hypothetical proteins LIC12341 and LIC11574, as candidate L. interrogans sv. Copenhageni st. Fiocruz L1–130 adhesins. Recombinant LIC11574, but not its L. biflexa homologue LBF1629, exhibited dose-dependent binding to both endothelial and epithelial cells. In addition, LIC11574 and LIC13411 bind to VE-cadherin, an endothelial cell receptor for L. interrogans. Extraction of bacteria with the non-ionic detergent Triton X-114 resulted in partitioning of the candidate adhesins to the detergent fraction, a likely indication that these proteins are outer membrane localized. All candidate adhesins were recognized by sera obtained from leptospirosis patients but not by sera from healthy individuals as assessed by western blot. This work has identified bacterial adhesins that are potentially involved in L. interrogans infection of the mammalian host, and through cadherin binding, may contribute to dissemination and vascular damage. Our findings may be of value in leptospirosis control and prevention, with the bacterial adhesins potentially serving as targets for development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis, caused by pathogenic species of the genus Leptospira, is an infectious disease that has emerged as a globally important health problem. Infection can either lead to mild illness or can progress to a severe disease form manifested by jaundice, kidney and liver dysfunction, and widespread blood vessel damage. It is thought that the ability of the bacteria to recognize and bind to human and animal cells is important for Leptospira spp. to cause the disease. Using phage display, we were able to identify bacterial proteins that mediate the binding of the bacteria to host cells. One of the identified proteins, LIC11574, attaches to different types of host cells, and to VE-cadherin, a cell surface protein previously identified as receptor for disease-causing L. interrogans. All bacterial proteins identified were recognized by sera obtained from leptospirosis patients but not by sera from healthy individuals. Our findings may be of value in leptospirosis control and prevention, with these bacterial surface proteins as new targets for serodiagnosis and vaccine development.
PMCID: PMC4183468  PMID: 25275630
4.  Oral Immunization with Escherichia coli Expressing a Lipidated Form of LigA Protects Hamsters against Challenge with Leptospira interrogans Serovar Copenhageni 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(2):893-902.
Leptospirosis is a potentially fatal zoonosis transmitted by reservoir host animals that harbor leptospires in their renal tubules and shed the bacteria in their urine. Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni transmitted from Rattus norvegicus to humans is the most prevalent cause of urban leptospirosis. We examined L. interrogans LigA, domains 7 to 13 (LigA7-13), as an oral vaccine delivered by Escherichia coli as a lipidated, membrane-associated protein. The efficacy of the vaccine was evaluated in a susceptible hamster model in terms of the humoral immune response and survival from leptospiral challenge. Four weeks of oral administration of live E. coli expressing LigA7-13 improved survival from intraperitoneal (i.p.) and intradermal (i.d.) challenge by L. interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain Fiocruz L1-130 in Golden Syrian hamsters. Immunization with E. coli expressing LigA7-13 resulted in a systemic antibody response, and a significant LigA7-13 IgG level after the first 2 weeks of immunization was completely predictive of survival 28 days after challenge. As in previous LigA vaccine studies, all immunized hamsters that survived infection had renal leptospiral colonization and histopathological changes. In summary, an oral LigA-based vaccine improved survival from leptospiral challenge by either the i.p. or i.d. route.
PMCID: PMC3911400  PMID: 24478102
5.  Multiplex Pathogen Identification for Polymicrobial Urinary Tract Infections Using Biosensor Technology: A Prospective Clinical Study 
The Journal of urology  2009;182(6):2735-2741.
Rapid diagnosis of urinary tract infection would have a significant beneficial impact on clinical management, particularly in patients with structural or functional urinary tract abnormalities who are highly susceptible to recurrent polymicrobial infections. We examined the analytical validity of an electrochemical biosensor array for rapid molecular diagnosis of urinary tract infection in a prospective clinical study in patients with neurogenic bladder.
Materials and Methods
The electrochemical biosensor array was functionalized with DNA probes against 16S rRNA of the most common uropathogens. Spinal cord injured patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital were recruited into the study. Urine samples were generally tested on the biosensor within 1 to 2 hours of collection. Biosensor results were compared with those obtained using standard clinical microbiology laboratory methods.
We successfully developed a 1-hour biosensor assay for multiplex identification of pathogens. From July 2007 to December 2008 we recruited 116 patients, yielding a total of 109 urine samples suitable for analysis and comparison between biosensor assay and standard urine culture. Of the samples 74% were positive, of which 42% were polymicrobial. We identified 20 organisms, of which Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterococcus species were the most common. Biosensor assay specificity and positive predictive value were 100%. Pathogen detection sensitivity was 89%, yielding a 76% negative predictive value.
To our knowledge we report the first prospective clinical study to successfully identify pathogens within a point of care time frame using an electrochemical biosensor platform. Additional efforts to improve the limit of detection and probe design are needed to further enhance assay sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC4035241  PMID: 19837423
urinary bladder; neurogenic; spinal cord injuries; urinary tract infections; biosensing techniques; RNA; ribosomal; 16S
6.  Role for cis-Acting RNA Sequences in the Temperature-Dependent Expression of the Multiadhesive Lig Proteins in Leptospira interrogans 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(22):5092-5101.
The spirochete Leptospira interrogans causes a systemic infection that provokes a febrile illness. The putative lipoproteins LigA and LigB promote adhesion of Leptospira to host proteins, interfere with coagulation, and capture complement regulators. In this study, we demonstrate that the expression level of the LigA and LigB proteins was substantially higher when L. interrogans proliferated at 37°C instead of the standard culture temperature of 30°C. The RNA comprising the 175-nucleotide 5′ untranslated region (UTR) and first six lig codons, whose sequence is identical in ligA and ligB, is predicted to fold into two distinct stem-loop structures separated by a single-stranded region. The ribosome-binding site is partially sequestered in double-stranded RNA within the second structure. Toeprint analysis revealed that in vitro formation of a 30S-tRNAfMet-mRNA ternary complex was inhibited unless a 5′ deletion mutation disrupted the second stem-loop structure. To determine whether the lig sequence could mediate temperature-regulated gene expression in vivo, the 5′ UTR and the first six codons were inserted between the Escherichia coli l-arabinose promoter and bgaB (β-galactosidase from Bacillus stearothermophilus) to create a translational fusion. The lig fragment successfully conferred thermoregulation upon the β-galactosidase reporter in E. coli. The second stem-loop structure was sufficient to confer thermoregulation on the reporter, while sequences further upstream in the 5′ UTR slightly diminished expression at each temperature tested. Finally, the expression level of β-galactosidase was significantly higher when point mutations predicted to disrupt base pairs in the second structure were introduced into the stem. Compensatory mutations that maintained base pairing of the stem without restoring the wild-type sequence reinstated the inhibitory effect of the 5′ UTR on expression. These results indicate that ligA and ligB expression is limited by double-stranded RNA that occludes the ribosome-binding site. At elevated temperatures, the ribosome-binding site is exposed to promote translation initiation.
PMCID: PMC3811586  PMID: 24013626
7.  Rapid Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing by Sensitive Detection of Precursor rRNA Using a Novel Electrochemical Biosensing Platform 
Precursor rRNA (pre-rRNA) is an intermediate stage in the formation of mature rRNA and is a useful marker for cellular metabolism and growth rate. We developed an electrochemical sensor assay for Escherichia coli pre-rRNA involving hybridization of capture and detector probes with tail sections that are spliced away during rRNA maturation. A ternary self-assembled monolayer (SAM) prepared on gold electrode surfaces by coassembly of thiolated capture probes with hexanedithiol and posttreatment with 6-mercapto-1-hexanol minimized the background signal and maximized the signal-to-noise ratio. Inclusion of internal calibration controls allowed accurate estimation of the pre-rRNA copy number per cell. As expected, the ratio of pre-rRNA to mature rRNA was low during stationary phase and high during log phase. Pre-rRNA levels were highly dynamic, ranging from 2 copies per cell during stationary phase to ∼1,200 copies per cell within 60 min of inoculation into fresh growth medium. Specificity of the assay for pre-rRNA was validated using rifampin and chloramphenicol, which are known inhibitors of pre-rRNA synthesis and processing, respectively. The DNA gyrase inhibitor, ciprofloxacin, was found to act similarly to rifampin; a decline in pre-rRNA was detectable within 15 min in ciprofloxacin-susceptible bacteria. Assays for pre-rRNA provide insight into cellular metabolism and are promising predictors of antibiotic susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3553690  PMID: 23229486
9.  Leptospiral Outer Membrane Protein Microarray, a Novel Approach to Identification of Host Ligand-Binding Proteins 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(22):6074-6087.
Leptospirosis is a zoonosis with worldwide distribution caused by pathogenic spirochetes belonging to the genus Leptospira. The leptospiral life cycle involves transmission via freshwater and colonization of the renal tubules of their reservoir hosts. Infection requires adherence to cell surfaces and extracellular matrix components of host tissues. These host-pathogen interactions involve outer membrane proteins (OMPs) expressed on the bacterial surface. In this study, we developed an Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain Fiocruz L1-130 OMP microarray containing all predicted lipoproteins and transmembrane OMPs. A total of 401 leptospiral genes or their fragments were transcribed and translated in vitro and printed on nitrocellulose-coated glass slides. We investigated the potential of this protein microarray to screen for interactions between leptospiral OMPs and fibronectin (Fn). This approach resulted in the identification of the recently described fibronectin-binding protein, LIC10258 (MFn8, Lsa66), and 14 novel Fn-binding proteins, denoted Microarray Fn-binding proteins (MFns). We confirmed Fn binding of purified recombinant LIC11612 (MFn1), LIC10714 (MFn2), LIC11051 (MFn6), LIC11436 (MFn7), LIC10258 (MFn8, Lsa66), and LIC10537 (MFn9) by far-Western blot assays. Moreover, we obtained specific antibodies to MFn1, MFn7, MFn8 (Lsa66), and MFn9 and demonstrated that MFn1, MFn7, and MFn9 are expressed and surface exposed under in vitro growth conditions. Further, we demonstrated that MFn1, MFn4 (LIC12631, Sph2), and MFn7 enable leptospires to bind fibronectin when expressed in the saprophyte, Leptospira biflexa. Protein microarrays are valuable tools for high-throughput identification of novel host ligand-binding proteins that have the potential to play key roles in the virulence mechanisms of pathogens.
PMCID: PMC3486348  PMID: 22961849
10.  Multiple leptospiral sphingomyelinases (or are there?) 
Microbiology  2012;158(Pt 5):1137-1146.
Culture supernatants of leptospiral pathogens have long been known to haemolyse erythrocytes. This property is due, at least in part, to sphingomyelinase activity. Indeed, genome sequencing reveals that pathogenic Leptospira species are richly endowed with sphingomyelinase homologues: five genes have been annotated to encode sphingomyelinases in Leptospira interrogans. Such redundancy suggests that this class of genes is likely to benefit leptospiral pathogens in their interactions with the mammalian host. Surprisingly, sequence comparison with bacterial sphingomyelinases for which the crystal structures are known reveals that only one of the leptospiral homologues has the active site amino acid residues required for enzymic activity. Based on studies of other bacterial toxins, we propose that leptospiral sphingomyelinase homologues, irrespective of their catalytic activity, may possess additional molecular functions that benefit the spirochaete. Potential secretion pathways and roles in pathogenesis are discussed, including nutrient acquisition, dissemination, haemorrhage and immune evasion. Although leptospiral sphingomyelinase-like proteins are best known for their cytolytic properties, we believe that a better understanding of their biological role requires the examination of their sublytic properties as well.
PMCID: PMC3542825  PMID: 22422753
11.  Methylation and in vivo expression of the surface-exposed Leptospira interrogans outer-membrane protein OmpL32 
Microbiology  2012;158(Pt 3):622-635.
Recent studies have revealed that bacterial protein methylation is a widespread post-translational modification that is required for virulence in selected pathogenic bacteria. In particular, altered methylation of outer-membrane proteins has been shown to modulate the effectiveness of the host immune response. In this study, 2D gel electrophoresis combined with MALDI-TOF MS identified a Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain Fiocruz L1-130 protein, corresponding to ORF LIC11848, which undergoes extensive and differential methylation of glutamic acid residues. Immunofluorescence microscopy implicated LIC11848 as a surface-exposed outer-membrane protein, prompting the designation OmpL32. Indirect immunofluorescence microscopy of golden Syrian hamster liver and kidney sections revealed expression of OmpL32 during colonization of these organs. Identification of methylated surface-exposed outer-membrane proteins, such as OmpL32, provides a foundation for delineating the role of this post-translational modification in leptospiral virulence.
PMCID: PMC3352116  PMID: 22174381
12.  LipL32 Is a Subsurface Lipoprotein of Leptospira interrogans: Presentation of New Data and Reevaluation of Previous Studies 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e51025.
The agents of leptospirosis, a zoonosis with worldwide distribution, are pathogenic spirochetes belonging to the genus Leptospira. The leptospiral life cycle involves transmission via fresh water and colonization of the renal tubules of their reservoir hosts. Infection of accidental hosts, including humans, may result in life-threatening sequelae. Bacterial outer membrane proteins (OMPs), particularly those with surface-exposed regions, play crucial roles in pathogen virulence mechanisms and adaptation to environmental conditions, including those found in the mammalian host. Therefore, elucidation and characterization of the surface-exposed OMPs of Leptospira spp. is of great interest in the leptospirosis field. A thorough, multi-pronged approach for assessing surface exposure of leptospiral OMPs is essential. Herein, we present evidence for a sub-surface location for most or all of the major leptospiral lipoprotein, LipL32, based on surface immunofluorescence utilizing three different types of antibodies and four different permeabilization methods, as well as surface proteolysis of intact and lysed leptospires. We reevaluate prior evidence presented in support of LipL32 surface-exposure and present a novel perspective on a protein whose location has been misleading researchers, due in large part to its extraordinary abundance in leptospiral cells.
PMCID: PMC3544172  PMID: 23323152
13.  FlaA Proteins in Leptospira interrogans Are Essential for Motility and Virulence but Are Not Required for Formation of the Flagellum Sheath 
Infection and Immunity  2012;80(6):2019-2025.
Spirochetes have periplasmic flagella composed of a core surrounded by a sheath. The pathogen Leptospira interrogans has four flaB (proposed core subunit) and two flaA (proposed sheath subunit) genes. The flaA genes are organized in a locus with flaA2 immediately upstream of flaA1. In this study, flaA1 and flaA2 mutants were constructed by transposon mutagenesis. Both mutants still produced periplasmic flagella. The flaA1 mutant did not produce FlaA1 but continued to produce FlaA2 and retained normal morphology and virulence in a hamster model of infection but had reduced motility. The flaA2 mutant did not produce either the FlaA1 or the FlaA2 protein. Cells of the flaA2 mutant lacked the distinctive hook-shaped ends associated with L. interrogans and lacked translational motility in liquid and semisolid media. These observations were confirmed with a second, independent flaA2 mutant. The flaA2 mutant failed to cause disease in animal models of acute infection. Despite lacking FlaA proteins, the flagella of the flaA2 mutant were of the same thickness as wild-type flagella, as measured by electron microscopy, and exhibited a normal flagellum sheath, indicating that FlaA proteins are not essential for the synthesis of the flagellum sheath, as observed for other spirochetes. This study shows that FlaA subunits contribute to leptospiral translational motility, cellular shape, and virulence.
PMCID: PMC3370569  PMID: 22451522
14.  Antibodies to a Novel Leptospiral Protein, LruC, in the Eye Fluids and Sera of Horses with Leptospira-Associated Uveitis 
Screening of an expression library of Leptospira interrogans with eye fluids from uveitic horses resulted in identification of a novel protein, LruC. LruC is located in the inner leaflet of the leptospiral outer membrane, and an lruC gene was detected in all tested pathogenic L. interrogans strains. LruC-specific antibody levels were significantly higher in eye fluids and sera of uveitic horses than healthy horses. These findings suggest that LruC may play a role in equine leptospiral uveitis.
PMCID: PMC3294619  PMID: 22237897
15.  Three-Dimensional Structures of Pathogenic and Saprophytic Leptospira Species Revealed by Cryo-Electron Tomography 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(6):1299-1306.
Leptospira interrogans is the primary causative agent of the most widespread zoonotic disease, leptospirosis. An in-depth structural characterization of L. interrogans is needed to understand its biology and pathogenesis. In this study, cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) was used to compare pathogenic and saprophytic species and examine the unique morphological features of this group of bacteria. Specifically, our study revealed a structural difference between the cell envelopes of L. interrogans and Leptospira biflexa involving variations in the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) layer. Through cryo-ET and subvolume averaging, we determined the first three-dimensional (3-D) structure of the flagellar motor of leptospira, with novel features in the flagellar C ring, export apparatus, and stator. Together with direct visualization of chemoreceptor arrays, DNA packing, periplasmic filaments, spherical cytoplasmic bodies, and a unique “cap” at the cell end, this report provides structural insights into these fascinating Leptospira species.
PMCID: PMC3294836  PMID: 22228733
16.  Target-Specific Capture Enhances Sensitivity of Electrochemical Detection of Bacterial Pathogens ▿ †  
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2011;49(12):4293-4296.
We report the concentration and purification of bacterial 16S rRNA by the use of a biotinylated DNA target-specific capture (TSC) probe. For both cultivated bacterial and urine specimens from urinary tract infection patients, TSC resulted in a 5- to 8-fold improvement in the sensitivity of bacterial detection in a 16S rRNA electrochemical sensor assay.
PMCID: PMC3232961  PMID: 21940468
17.  Ternary Monolayers as DNA Recognition Interfaces for Direct and Sensitive Electrochemical Detection in Untreated Clinical Samples 
Biosensors & bioelectronics  2011;26(8):3577-3583.
Detection of specific DNA sequences in clinical samples is a key goal of studies on DNA biosensors and gene chips. Herein we present a highly sensitive electrochemical genosensor for direct measurements of specific DNA sequences in undiluted and untreated human serum and urine samples. Such genosensing relies on a new ternary interface involving hexanedithiol (HDT) co-immobilized with the thiolated capture probe (SHCP) on gold surfaces, followed by the incorporation of 6-mercapto-1-hexanol (MCH) as diluent. The performance of ternary monolayers prepared with linear dithiols of different lengths was systematically examined, compared and characterized by cyclic voltammetry and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy, with HDT exhibiting the most favorable analytical performance. The new SHCP/HDT+MCH monolayer led to a 80-fold improvement in the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) for 1 nM target DNA in undiluted human serum over the common SHCP/MCH binary alkanethiol interface, and allowed the direct quantification of the target DNA down to 7 pM (28 amol) and 17 pM (68 amol) in undiluted/untreated serum and urine, respectively. It also displayed attractive antifouling properties, as indicated from the favorable S/N obtained after a prolonged exposure (24 h) to untreated biological matrices. These attractive features of the SHCP/HDT+MCH sensor interface indicate considerable promise for a wide range of clinical applications.
PMCID: PMC3065524  PMID: 21377347
Dithiols; self-assembled monolayer; clinical samples; electrochemical detection; hybridization; DNA
18.  Ternary Surface Monolayers for Ultrasensitive (Zeptomole) Amperometric Detection of Nucleic-Acid Hybridization without Signal Amplification 
Analytical chemistry  2010;82(21):10.1021/ac101474k.
A ternary surface monolayer, consisting of co-assembled thiolated capture probe (SHCP) mercaptohexanol (MCH) and dithiothreitol (DTT), is shown to offer dramatic improvements in the signal-to-noise characteristics of electrochemical DNA hybridization biosensors based on common self-assembled monolayers (SAMs). Remarkably low detection limits down to 40 zmole (in 4 μL samples) as well as only 1 CFU E. coli per sensor are thus obtained without any additional amplification step in connection to the commonly used horseradish peroxidase/3,3′,5,5′-tetramethylbenzidine (HRP/TMB) system. Such dramatic improvements in the detection limits (compared to common binary alkanethiol interfaces and to most electrochemical DNA sensing strategies without target or signal amplification) are attributed primarily to the remarkably higher resistance to non-specific adsorption. This reflects the highly compact layer (with lower pinhole density) produced by the coupling of the cyclic- and linear-configuration ‘backfillers’ that leads to a remarkably low background noise even in the presence of complex sample matrices. A wide range of surface compositions have been investigated and the ternary mixed monolayer has been systematically optimized. Detailed impedance spectroscopy and cyclic voltammetric studies shed useful insights into the surface coverage. The impressive sensitivity and high specificity of the simple developed methodology indicate great promise for a wide range of nucleic acid testing, including clinical diagnostics, biothreat detection, food safety and forensic analysis.
PMCID: PMC3038188  PMID: 20883023
19.  Redox cycling amplified electrochemical detection of DNA hybridization: Application to pathogen E. coli bacterial RNA 
Analytica chimica acta  2011;689(1):29-33.
An electrochemical genosensor in which signal amplification is achieved using p-aminophenol (p-AP) redox cycling by nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) is presented. An immobilized thiolated capture probe is combined with a sandwich-type hybridization assay, using biotin as a tracer in the detection probe, and streptavidin-alkaline phosphatase as reporter enzyme. The phosphatase liberates the electrochemical mediator p-AP from its electrically inactive phosphate derivative. This generated p-AP is electrooxidized at an Au electrode modified self-assembled monolayer to p-quinone imine (p-QI). In the presence of NADH, p-QI is reduced back to p-AP, which can be re-oxidized on the electrode and produce amplified signal. A detection limit of 1 pM DNA target is offered by this simple one-electrode, one-enzyme format redox cycling strategy. The redox cycling design is applied successfully to the monitoring of the 16S rRNA of E. coli pathogenic bacteria, and provides a detection limit of 250 CFU μL−1.
PMCID: PMC3053385  PMID: 21338752
Electrochemistry; Genosensor; Amplification; Redox cycling; Escherichia coli
20.  Leptospira: A Spirochete with a Hybrid Outer Membrane 
Molecular microbiology  2010;10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07262.x.
Leptospira is a genus of spirochetes that includes organisms with a variety of lifestyles ranging from aquatic saprophytes to invasive pathogens. Adaptation to a wide variety of environmental conditions has required leptospires to acquire a large genome and a complex outer membrane with features that are unique among bacteria. The most abundant surface-exposed outer membrane proteins are lipoproteins that are integrated into the lipid bilayer by amino terminal fatty acids. In contrast to many spirochetes, the leptospiral outer membrane also includes lipopolysaccharide and many homologues of well-known beta-barrel transmembrane outer membrane proteins. Research on leptospiral transmembrane outer membrane proteins has lagged behind studies of lipoproteins because of their aberrant behavior by Triton X-114 detergent fractionation. For this reason, transmembrane outer membrane proteins are best characterized by assessing membrane integration and surface exposure. Not surprisingly, some outer membrane proteins that mediate host-pathogen interactions are strongly regulated by conditions found in mammalian host tissues. For example, the leptospiral immunoglobulin-like (Lig) repeat proteins are dramatically induced by osmolarity and mediate interactions with host extracellular matrix proteins. Development of molecular genetic tools are making it possible to finally understand the roles of these and other outer membrane proteins in mechanisms of leptospiral pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2976823  PMID: 20598085
21.  A LigA Three-Domain Region Protects Hamsters from Lethal Infection by Leptospira interrogans 
The leptospiral LigA protein consists of 13 bacterial immunoglobulin-like (Big) domains and is the only purified recombinant subunit vaccine that has been demonstrated to protect against lethal challenge by a clinical isolate of Leptospira interrogans in the hamster model of leptospirosis. We determined the minimum number and location of LigA domains required for immunoprotection. Immunization with domains 11 and 12 was found to be required but insufficient for protection. Inclusion of a third domain, either 10 or 13, was required for 100% survival after intraperitoneal challenge with Leptospira interrogans serovar Copenhageni strain Fiocruz L1-130. As in previous studies, survivors had renal colonization; here, we quantitated the leptospiral burden by qPCR to be 1.2×103 to 8×105 copies of leptospiral DNA per microgram of kidney DNA. Although renal histopathology in survivors revealed tubulointerstitial changes indicating an inflammatory response to the infection, blood chemistry analysis indicated that renal function was normal. These studies define the Big domains of LigA that account for its vaccine efficacy and highlight the need for additional strategies to achieve sterilizing immunity to protect the mammalian host from leptospiral infection and its consequences.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is the most widespread bacterial infection transmitted to humans from host animals that harbor the bacteria in their kidneys. Human infections caused by the bacterium, Leptospira interrogans, frequently result in a life-threatening illness characterized by jaundice and kidney failure. Vaccines are urgently needed to prevent leptospirosis in populations at risk. The leptospiral protein, LigA, is a promising vaccine candidate because it is the first purified protein to be shown to protect animals from fatal leptospirosis. The goal of this study was to determine which of LigA's 13 domains are required for the protective effect. Immunization with domains 11 and 12 was found to be required, but was insufficient, for protection. A third domain, either 10 or 13, was required for 100% survival. As in previous studies, residual bacteria were cultured from the kidneys of survivors. However, in contrast to previous studies, we determined the amount of bacterial DNA in the kidneys as a measure of vaccine efficacy. We also examined the kidneys microscopically for signs of damage and measured blood chemistries to assess kidney function. These are important steps towards developing vaccines that provide protection from kidney damage and infection.
PMCID: PMC3236721  PMID: 22180800
22.  Heterologous expression of pathogen-specific genes ligA and ligB in the saprophyte Leptospira biflexa confers enhanced adhesion to cultured cells and fibronectin 
BMC Microbiology  2011;11:129.
In comparison to other bacterial pathogens, our knowledge of the molecular basis of the pathogenesis of leptospirosis is extremely limited. An improved understanding of leptospiral pathogenetic mechanisms requires reliable tools for functional genetic analysis. Leptospiral immunoglobulin-like (Lig) proteins are surface proteins found in pathogenic Leptospira, but not in saprophytes. Here, we describe a system for heterologous expression of the Leptospira interrogans genes ligA and ligB in the saprophyte Leptospira biflexa serovar Patoc.
The genes encoding LigA and LigB under the control of a constitutive spirochaetal promoter were inserted into the L. biflexa replicative plasmid. We were able to demonstrate expression and surface localization of LigA and LigB in L. biflexa. We found that the expression of the lig genes significantly enhanced the ability of transformed L. biflexa to adhere in vitro to extracellular matrix components and cultured cells, suggesting the involvement of Lig proteins in cell adhesion.
This work reports a complete description of the system we have developed for heterologous expression of pathogen-specific proteins in the saprophytic L. biflexa. We show that expression of LigA and LigB proteins from the pathogen confers a virulence-associated phenotype on L. biflexa, namely adhesion to eukaryotic cells and fibronectin in vitro. This study indicates that L. biflexa can serve as a surrogate host to characterize the role of key virulence factors of the causative agent of leptospirosis.
PMCID: PMC3133549  PMID: 21658265
23.  Transcriptional Response of Leptospira interrogans to Iron Limitation and Characterization of a PerR Homolog ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(11):4850-4859.
Leptospirosis is a globally significant zoonosis caused by Leptospira spp. Iron is essential for growth of most bacterial species. Since iron availability is low in the host, pathogens have evolved complex iron acquisition mechanisms to survive and establish infection. In many bacteria, expression of iron uptake and storage proteins is regulated by Fur. L. interrogans encodes four predicted Fur homologs; we have constructed a mutation in one of these, la1857. We conducted microarray analysis to identify iron-responsive genes and to study the effects of la1857 mutation on gene expression. Under iron-limiting conditions, 43 genes were upregulated and 49 genes were downregulated in the wild type. Genes encoding proteins with predicted involvement in inorganic ion transport and metabolism (including TonB-dependent proteins and outer membrane transport proteins) were overrepresented in the upregulated list, while 54% of differentially expressed genes had no known function. There were 16 upregulated genes of unknown function which are absent from the saprophyte L. biflexa and which therefore may encode virulence-associated factors. Expression of iron-responsive genes was not significantly affected by mutagenesis of la1857, indicating that LA1857 is not a global regulator of iron homeostasis. Upregulation of heme biosynthetic genes and a putative catalase in the mutant suggested that LA1857 is more similar to PerR, a regulator of the oxidative stress response. Indeed, the la1857 mutant was more resistant to peroxide stress than the wild type. Our results provide insights into the role of iron in leptospiral metabolism and regulation of the oxidative stress response, including genes likely to be important for virulence.
PMCID: PMC2976334  PMID: 20805337
24.  The Multifunctional LigB Adhesin Binds Homeostatic Proteins with Potential Roles in Cutaneous Infection by Pathogenic Leptospira interrogans 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e16879.
Leptospirosis is a potentially fatal zoonotic disease in humans and animals caused by pathogenic spirochetes, such as Leptospira interrogans. The mode of transmission is commonly limited to the exposure of mucous membrane or damaged skin to water contaminated by leptospires shed in the urine of carriers, such as rats. Infection occurs during seasonal flooding of impoverished tropical urban habitats with large rat populations, but also during recreational activity in open water, suggesting it is very efficient. LigA and LigB are surface localized proteins in pathogenic Leptospira strains with properties that could facilitate the infection of damaged skin. Their expression is rapidly induced by the increase in osmolarity encountered by leptospires upon transition from water to host. In addition, the immunoglobulin-like repeats of the Lig proteins bind proteins that mediate attachment to host tissue, such as fibronectin, fibrinogen, collagens, laminin, and elastin, some of which are important in cutaneous wound healing and repair. Hemostasis is critical in a fresh injury, where fibrinogen from damaged vasculature mediates coagulation. We show that fibrinogen binding by recombinant LigB inhibits fibrin formation, which could aid leptospiral entry into the circulation, dissemination, and further infection by impairing healing. LigB also binds fibroblast fibronectin and type III collagen, two proteins prevalent in wound repair, thus potentially enhancing leptospiral adhesion to skin openings. LigA or LigB expression by transformation of a nonpathogenic saprophyte, L. biflexa, enhances bacterial adhesion to fibrinogen. Our results suggest that by binding homeostatic proteins found in cutaneous wounds, LigB could facilitate leptospirosis transmission. Both fibronectin and fibrinogen binding have been mapped to an overlapping domain in LigB comprising repeats 9–11, with repeat 11 possibly enhancing binding by a conformational effect. Leptospirosis patient antibodies react with the LigB domain, suggesting applications in diagnosis and vaccines that are currently limited by the strain-specific leptospiral lipopolysaccharide coats.
PMCID: PMC3036719  PMID: 21347378
25.  Potentiometric Detection of DNA Hybridization using Enzyme-Induced Metallization and a Silver Ion Selective Electrode 
Analytical chemistry  2009;81(24):10007-10012.
Here we report on a highly sensitive potentiometric detection of DNA hybridization. The new assay uses a low-volume solid-contact silver ion-selective electrode (Ag+-ISE) to monitor the depletion of silver ions induced by the biocatalytic reaction of the alkaline-phosphatase enzyme tag. The resultant potential change of the Ag+-ISE thus serves as the hybridization signal. Factors affecting the potentiometric hybridization response have been optimized to offer a detection limit of 50 fM (0.2 amol) DNA target. The new potentiometric assay was applied successfully to the monitoring of the 16S rRNA of E. coli pathogenic bacteria to achieve a low detection limit of 10 CFU in the 4 μL sample. Such potentiometric transduction of biocatalytically-induced metallization processess holds great promise for monitoring various bioaffinity assays involving common enzyme tags.
PMCID: PMC2794934  PMID: 19908886

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