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1.  Live Imaging of Bioluminescent Leptospira interrogans in Mice Reveals Renal Colonization as a Stealth Escape from the Blood Defenses and Antibiotics 
Leptospira (L.) interrogans are bacteria responsible for a worldwide reemerging zoonosis. Some animals asymptomatically carry L. interrogans in their kidneys and excrete bacteria in their urine, which contaminates the environment. Humans are infected through skin contact with leptospires and develop mild to severe leptospirosis. Previous attempts to construct fluorescent or bioluminescent leptospires, which would permit in vivo visualization and investigation of host defense mechanisms during infection, have been unsuccessful. Using a firefly luciferase cassette and random transposition tools, we constructed bioluminescent chromosomal transformants in saprophytic and pathogenic leptospires. The kinetics of leptospiral dissemination in mice, after intraperitoneal inoculation with a pathogenic transformant, was tracked by bioluminescence using live imaging. For infective doses of 106 to 107 bacteria, we observed dissemination and exponential growth of leptospires in the blood, followed by apparent clearance of bacteria. However, with 2×108 bacteria, the septicemia led to the death of mice within 3 days post-infection. In surviving mice, one week after infection, pathogenic leptospires reemerged only in the kidneys, where they multiplied and reached a steady state, leading to a sustained chronic renal infection. These experiments reveal that a fraction of the leptospiral population escapes the potent blood defense, and colonizes a defined number of niches in the kidneys, proportional to the infective dose. Antibiotic treatments failed to eradicate leptospires that colonized the kidneys, although they were effective against L. interrogans if administered before or early after infection. To conclude, mice infected with bioluminescent L. interrogans proved to be a novel model to study both acute and chronic leptospirosis, and revealed that, in the kidneys, leptospires are protected from antibiotics. These bioluminescent leptospires represent a powerful new tool to challenge mice treated with drugs or vaccines, and test the survival, dissemination, and transmission of leptospires between environment and hosts.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is a worldwide neglected disease caused by the pathogenic bacterium named Leptospira interrogans. Some rodents, such as rats, do not get sick from leptospirosis and constitute a reservoir. They carry leptospires in their kidneys and excrete the bacteria in the environment. L. interrogans are mobile and penetrate their hosts through abraded skin or mucosa. Infected humans may develop mild to severe leptospirosis, potentially leading to death. Leptospires are difficult to cultivate and to genetically manipulate, impairing the study of leptospirosis. Here, we constructed bioluminescent leptospires, and monitored infection in live mice by tracking bioluminescence. In the first days after infection, a rapid dissemination and growth of bacteria was observed in the blood circulation, followed around one week after the infection by their apparent disappearance. However, the leptospires reemerged and multiplied in the kidneys, to reach sustained levels three weeks after infection. The use of antibiotics showed that antibiotic-susceptible L. interrogans are very difficult to eradicate once they are settled in the kidneys. Mice infected with bioluminescent leptospires represent a pertinent model to study leptospirosis. These bioluminescent leptospires are novel tools that will be useful to test the efficacy of treatments or vaccines against leptospirosis.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003359
PMCID: PMC4256284  PMID: 25474719
2.  A Putative Regulatory Genetic Locus Modulates Virulence in the Pathogen Leptospira interrogans 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(6):2542-2552.
Limited research has been conducted on the role of transcriptional regulators in relation to virulence in Leptospira interrogans, the etiological agent of leptospirosis. Here, we identify an L. interrogans locus that encodes a sensor protein, an anti-sigma factor antagonist, and two genes encoding proteins of unknown function. Transposon insertion into the gene encoding the sensor protein led to dampened transcription of the other 3 genes in this locus. This lb139 insertion mutant (the lb139− mutant) displayed attenuated virulence in the hamster model of infection and reduced motility in vitro. Whole-transcriptome analyses using RNA sequencing revealed the downregulation of 115 genes and the upregulation of 28 genes, with an overrepresentation of gene products functioning in motility and signal transduction and numerous gene products with unknown functions, predicted to be localized to the extracellular space. Another significant finding encompassed suppressed expression of the majority of the genes previously demonstrated to be upregulated at physiological osmolarity, including the sphingomyelinase C precursor Sph2 and LigB. We provide insight into a possible requirement for transcriptional regulation as it relates to leptospiral virulence and suggest various biological processes that are affected due to the loss of native expression of this genetic locus.
doi:10.1128/IAI.01803-14
PMCID: PMC4019197  PMID: 24686063
3.  High-Temperature Protein G Is an Essential Virulence Factor of Leptospira interrogans 
Infection and Immunity  2014;82(3):1123-1131.
Leptospira interrogans is a global zoonotic pathogen and is the causative agent of leptospirosis, an endemic disease of humans and animals worldwide. There is limited understanding of leptospiral pathogenesis; therefore, further elucidation of the mechanisms involved would aid in vaccine development and the prevention of infection. HtpG (high-temperature protein G) is the bacterial homolog to the highly conserved molecular chaperone Hsp90 and is important in the stress responses of many bacteria. The specific role of HtpG, especially in bacterial pathogenesis, remains largely unknown. Through the use of an L. interrogans htpG transposon insertion mutant, this study demonstrates that L. interrogans HtpG is essential for virulence in the hamster model of acute leptospirosis. Complementation of the htpG mutant completely restored virulence. Surprisingly, the htpG mutant did not appear to show sensitivity to heat or oxidative stress, phenotypes common in htpG mutants in other bacterial species. Furthermore, the mutant did not show increased sensitivity to serum complement, reduced survival within macrophages, or altered protein or lipopolysaccharide expression. The underlying cause for attenuation thus remains unknown, but HtpG is a novel leptospiral virulence factor and one of only a very small number identified to date.
doi:10.1128/IAI.01546-13
PMCID: PMC3958012  PMID: 24366253
4.  High-Resolution Typing of Leptospira interrogans Strains by Multispacer Sequence Typing 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2014;52(2):564-571.
Leptospirosis is a worldwide zoonosis which is responsible for the typical form of Weil's disease. The epidemiological surveillance of the Leptospira species agent is important for host prevalence control. Although the genotyping methods have progressed, the identification of some serovars remains ambiguous. We investigated the multispacer sequence typing (MST) method for genotyping strains belonging to the species Leptospira interrogans, which is the main agent of leptospirosis worldwide. A total of 33 DNA samples isolated from the reference strains of L. interrogans serogroups Icterohaemorrhagiae, Australis, Canicola, and Grippotyphosa, which are the most prevalent serogroups in France, were analyzed by both the variable-number tandem-repeat (VNTR) and MST methods. An MST database has been constructed from the DNA of these reference strains to define the MST profiles. The MST profiles corroborated with the VNTR results. Moreover, the MST analysis allowed the identification at the serovar level or potentially to the isolate level for strains belonging to L. interrogans serovar Icterohaemorrhagiae, which then results in a higher resolution than VNTR (Hunter-Gaston index of 0.94 versus 0.68). Regarding L. interrogans serogroups Australis, Canicola, and Grippotyphosa, the MST and VNTR methods similarly identified the genotype. The MST method enabled the acquisition of simple and robust results that were based on the nucleotide sequences. The MST identified clinical isolates in correlation with the reference serovar profiles, thus permitting an epidemiological surveillance of circulating L. interrogans strains, especially for the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroup, which includes the most prevalent strains of public health interest.
doi:10.1128/JCM.02482-13
PMCID: PMC3911330  PMID: 24478489
5.  Epidemiology of Leptospira Transmitted by Rodents in Southeast Asia 
Background
Leptospirosis is the most common bacterial zoonoses and has been identified as an important emerging global public health problem in Southeast Asia. Rodents are important reservoirs for human leptospirosis, but epidemiological data is lacking.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We sampled rodents living in different habitats from seven localities distributed across Southeast Asia (Thailand, Lao PDR and Cambodia), between 2009 to 2010. Human isolates were also obtained from localities close to where rodents were sampled. The prevalence of Leptospira infection was assessed by real-time PCR using DNA extracted from rodent kidneys, targeting the lipL32 gene. Sequencing rrs and secY genes, and Multi Locus Variable-number Tandem Repeat (VNTR) analyses were performed on DNA extracted from rat kidneys for Leptospira isolates molecular typing. Four species were detected in rodents, L. borgpetersenii (56% of positive samples), L. interrogans (36%), L. kirschneri (3%) and L. weilli (2%), which were identical to human isolates. Mean prevalence in rodents was approximately 7%, and largely varied across localities and habitats, but not between rodent species. The two most abundant Leptospira species displayed different habitat requirements: L. interrogans was linked to humid habitats (rice fields and forests) while L. borgpetersenii was abundant in both humid and dry habitats (non-floodable lands).
Conclusion/Significance
L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii species are widely distributed amongst rodent populations, and strain typing confirmed rodents as reservoirs for human leptospirosis. Differences in habitat requirements for L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii supported differential transmission modes. In Southeast Asia, human infection risk is not only restricted to activities taking place in wetlands and rice fields as is commonly accepted, but should also include tasks such as forestry work, as well as the hunting and preparation of rodents for consumption, which deserve more attention in future epidemiological studies.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is the most prevalent bacterial zoonosis worldwide. Rodents are believed to be the main reservoirs of Leptospira, yet little epidemiological research has been conducted on rodents from Southeast Asia. Previous studies suggest that activities which place humans in microenvironments shared by rodents increase the probability of contracting leptospirosis. We therefore investigated the circulation of leptospiral species and strains in rodent communities and human populations in seven localities scattered throughout Southeast Asia; in Thailand, Lao PDR and Cambodia. Molecular typing assays were used to characterize leptospiral species and strains in both rodents and humans, which demonstrated common strains between humans and rodents. Additionally, we observed that the two most abundant leptospiral species; L. borgpetersenii and L. interrogans, have different habitat requirements, which supposes different modes of transmission. Lastly, in Southeast Asia, the risk of leptospiral transmission to humans is not solely limited to wetlands and rice paddy fields, but is also linked to forested areas, and activities such as the hunting and/or preparation of rodents for consumption.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002902
PMCID: PMC4046967  PMID: 24901706
6.  Structural and Functional Characterization of an Orphan ATP-Binding Cassette ATPase Involved in Manganese Utilization and Tolerance in Leptospira spp. 
Journal of Bacteriology  2013;195(24):5583-5591.
Pathogenic Leptospira species are the etiological agents of the widespread zoonotic disease leptospirosis. Most organisms, including Leptospira, require divalent cations for proper growth, but because of their high reactivity, these metals are toxic at high concentrations. Therefore, bacteria have acquired strategies to maintain metal homeostasis, such as metal import and efflux. By screening Leptospira biflexa transposon mutants for their ability to use Mn2+, we have identified a gene encoding a putative orphan ATP-binding cassette (ABC) ATPase of unknown function. Inactivation of this gene in both L. biflexa and L. interrogans strains led to mutants unable to grow in medium in which iron was replaced by Mn2+, suggesting an involvement of this ABC ATPase in divalent cation uptake. A mutation in this ATPase-coding gene increased susceptibility to Mn2+ toxicity. Recombinant ABC ATPase of the pathogen L. interrogans exhibited Mg2+-dependent ATPase activity involving a P-loop motif. The structure of this ATPase was solved from a crystal containing two monomers in the asymmetric unit. Each monomer adopted a canonical two-subdomain organization of the ABC ATPase fold with an α/β subdomain containing the Walker motifs and an α subdomain containing the ABC signature motif (LSSGE). The two monomers were arranged in a head-to-tail orientation, forming a V-shaped particle with all the conserved ABC motifs at the dimer interface, similar to functional ABC ATPases. These results provide the first structural and functional characterization of a leptospiral ABC ATPase.
doi:10.1128/JB.00915-13
PMCID: PMC3889601  PMID: 24123817
7.  Precipitation of Iron on the Surface of Leptospira interrogans Is Associated with Mutation of the Stress Response Metalloprotease HtpX 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(15):4653-4660.
High concentrations of free metal ions in the environment can be detrimental to bacterial survival. However, bacteria utilize strategies, including the activation of stress response pathways and immobilizing chemical elements on their surface, to limit this toxicity. In this study, we characterized LA4131, the HtpX-like M48 metalloprotease from Leptospira interrogans, with a putative role in bacterial stress response and membrane homeostasis. Growth of the la4131 transposon mutant strain (L522) in 360 μM FeSO4 (10-fold the normal in vitro concentration) resulted in the production of an amorphous iron precipitate. Atomic force microscopy and transmission electron microscopy analysis of the strain demonstrated that precipitate production was associated with the generation and release of outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) from the leptospiral surface. Transcriptional studies indicated that inactivation of la4131 resulted in altered expression of a subset of metal toxicity and stress response genes. Combining these findings, this report describes OMV production in response to environmental stressors and associates OMV production with the in vitro activity of an HtpX-like metalloprotease.
doi:10.1128/AEM.01097-13
PMCID: PMC3719529  PMID: 23709510
8.  Leptospiral Outer Membrane Protein LipL41 Is Not Essential for Acute Leptospirosis but Requires a Small Chaperone Protein, Lep, for Stable Expression 
Infection and Immunity  2013;81(8):2768-2776.
Leptospirosis is a worldwide zoonosis caused by pathogenic Leptospira spp., but knowledge of leptospiral pathogenesis remains limited. However, the development of mutagenesis systems has allowed the investigation of putative virulence factors and their involvement in leptospirosis. LipL41 is the third most abundant lipoprotein found in the outer membranes of pathogenic leptospires and has been considered a putative virulence factor. LipL41 is encoded on the large chromosome 28 bp upstream of a small open reading frame encoding a hypothetical protein of unknown function. This gene was named lep, for LipL41 expression partner. In this study, lipL41 was found to be cotranscribed with lep. Two transposon mutants were characterized: a lipL41 mutant and a lep mutant. In the lep mutant, LipL41 protein levels were reduced by approximately 90%. Lep was shown through cross-linking and coexpression experiments to bind to LipL41. Lep is proposed to be a molecular chaperone essential for the stable expression of LipL41. The roles of LipL41 and Lep in the pathogenesis of Leptospira interrogans were investigated; surprisingly, neither of these two unique proteins was essential for acute leptospirosis.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00531-13
PMCID: PMC3719587  PMID: 23690405
9.  Discovery of a Leptospirosis Cluster Amidst a Pneumonic Plague Outbreak in a Miners’ Camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 
Conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provide an ideal environment for leptospirosis and plague, both of which can cause severe pulmonary manifestations. In December 2004, an outbreak of lethal pneumonia occurred in a local mining camp, affecting 130 persons and killing 57 of them. Clinical signs, fast disease spread, and initial laboratory investigations suggested pneumonic plague. While leptospirosis had not recently been described in the region, it was considered as a differential diagnosis. Anti-Leptospira antibodies were detected by microscopic agglutination test (MAT). A confirmed case of leptospirosis was defined as having consistent clinical signs and any one of the following: seroconversion or four-fold increase in MAT titre for paired serum samples, or a MAT titre ≥ 1:400 for acute-phase serum samples. Twenty-nine of the 54 patients or convalescents tested for leptospirosis were seropositive. Two cases showed a confirmed infection for both plague and leptospirosis. While evidence supports the plague nature of this outbreak, the results suggest that some of the suspected plague cases might be due to leptospirosis. In any case, this diagnosis will have to be evoked in the future if a similar outbreak occurs in this region of Africa.
doi:10.3390/ijerph110201824
PMCID: PMC3945570  PMID: 24514425
leptospirosis; pneumonia; plague; pneumonic plague; Central Africa
10.  Human Leptospirosis on Reunion Island: Past and Current Burden 
Since 1953, leptospirosis has been recognized as a public health problem on Reunion Island. In 2004, was implemented a specific surveillance system that included systematic reporting and the realization of environmental investigations around hospitalized cases. Here, we present the synthesis of historical data and the assessment of 9 years of leptospirosis surveillance. From 2004 to 2012, 414 hospitalized cases were reported. Cases of leptospirosis occurred mostly during the rainy season from December to May. Approximately 41% of infections occurred at home, 12% of infections occurred during aquatic leisure and 5% of cases were linked to professional activities. Furthermore, for 41% of cases, the place of infection could not be determined due to the accumulation of residential and non-residential exposure. Most of the cases of leptospirosis were linked to rural areas or traditional, rural occupations. We did not observe a shift to recreational leptospirosis as described in some developed countries. According to the new surveillance system, the number of reported cases has regularly increased since 2004. This situation is in part due to the improvement of the system in the first years but also to a real increase in the number of detected cases due to the introduction of molecular methods and to increased biological investigation into the Dengue-like syndrome by medical practitioners on the island since the Chikungunya crisis in 2006. This increase is probably due to surveillance and diagnosis biases but need to be carefully monitored. Nevertheless, the possibility of an outbreak is always present due to climatic events, such as after the “hyacinth” hurricane in 1980.
doi:10.3390/ijerph110100968
PMCID: PMC3924485  PMID: 24434593
leptospirosis; epidemiology; surveillance; human; Reunion Island; Indian Ocean
11.  Similarities in Leptospira Serogroup and Species Distribution in Animals and Humans in the Indian Ocean Island of Mayotte 
Our objective was to identify local animal reservoirs of leptospirosis to explain the unusual features of Leptospira strains recently described among patients on the island of Mayotte. By means of a microscopic agglutination test using local clinical isolates, we found that 11.2% of black rats were seropositive to Leptospira, whereas 10.2% of flying foxes, 2% of lemurs, 93.1% of domestic dogs, and 87.5% of stray dogs were seropositive. As observed in humans, Mini was the main serogroup circulating in animals, whereas serogroup Icterohaemorrhagiae was absent. Using quantitative polymerase chain reaction, we also showed that 29.8% of rats carried leptospires in their kidneys. The sequencing of 16S rRNA gene sequences of Leptospira found in black rat kidneys identified four genomospecies (Leptospira borgpetersenii, Leptospira interrogans, Leptospira kirschneri, and L. borgpetersenii group B), which established black rats as the major source of leptospirosis transmission to humans. The origins of such a genetic diversity in Leptospira strains are discussed.
doi:10.4269/ajtmh.2012.12-0012
PMCID: PMC3391038  PMID: 22764304
12.  Sensitivity and Specificity of a New Vertical Flow Rapid Diagnostic Test for the Serodiagnosis of Human Leptospirosis 
Background: Leptospirosis is a growing public health concern in many tropical and subtropical countries. However, its diagnosis is difficult because of non-specific symptoms and concurrent other endemic febrile diseases. In many regions, the laboratory diagnosis is not available due to a lack of preparedness and simple diagnostic assay or difficult access to reference laboratories. Yet, an early antibiotic treatment is decisive to the outcome. The need for Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) for bedside diagnosis of leptospirosis has been recognized. We developed a vertical flow immunochromatography strip RDT detecting anti-Leptospira human IgM and evaluated it in patients from New Caledonia, France, and French West Indies.
Methodology/Principal Findings: Whole killed Leptospira fainei cells were used as antigen for the test line and purified human IgM as the control line. The mobile phase was made of gold particles conjugated with goat anti-human IgM. Standards for Reporting of Diagnostic Accuracy criteria were used to assess the performance of this RDT. The Microscopic Agglutination Test (MAT) was used as the gold standard with a cut-off titer of ≥400. The sensitivity was 89.8% and the specificity 93.7%. Positive and negative Likelihood Ratios of 14.18 and 0.108 respectively, and a Diagnostic Odds Ratio of 130.737 confirmed its usefulness. This RDT had satisfactory reproducibility, repeatability, thermal tolerance and shelf-life. The comparison with MAT evidenced the earliness of the RDT to detect seroconversion. When compared with other RDT, the Vertical Flow RDT developed displayed good diagnostic performances.
Conclusions/Significance
This RDT might be used as a point of care diagnostic tool in limited resources countries. An evaluation in field conditions and in other epidemiological contexts should be considered to assess its validity over a wider range of serogroups or when facing different endemic pathogens. It might prove useful in endemic contexts or outbreak situations.
Author Summary
The major burden of leptospirosis happens in low-income populations from tropical or subtropical regions. Because of nonspecific symptoms in human leptospirosis, the biological confirmation is needed to ascertain the disease. However, this biological diagnosis relies on sophisticated and time-consuming techniques that are most often hardly (if ever) available to clinicians in peripheral health centers. Yet, the outcome of leptospirosis in humans largely depends on an early antibiotic treatment. Taken together, these factors highlight the need of rapid simple diagnostic tests for leptospirosis that could be used directly on the bedside even in remote health centers. In this study, we developed and evaluated a prototype point of care strip test for the serological diagnosis of human leptospirosis in New Caledonia, mainland France, and the French West Indies. The sensitivity was 89.8% [95% CI, 84.7–93.4] and the specificity 93.7% [95% CI, 89.65–96.2]. This easy, early and portable diagnostic test will be evaluated in other epidemiological conditions and under field conditions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002289
PMCID: PMC3694835  PMID: 23826401
13.  Chemotactic Behavior of Pathogenic and Nonpathogenic Leptospira Species 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2012;78(23):8467-8469.
We have developed a capillary tube assay in combination with real-time PCR to quantitate the number of chemoattracted Leptospira cells. We identified Tween 80, glucose, sucrose, and pyruvate as attractants for Leptospira cells; amino acids and vitamin B12 were found to be nonchemotactic or weakly chemotactic. This assay has the general applicability to further our understanding of leptospiral chemotaxis.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02288-12
PMCID: PMC3497369  PMID: 23001652
14.  Leptospira interrogans Catalase Is Required for Resistance to H2O2 and for Virulence 
Infection and Immunity  2012;80(11):3892-3899.
Pathogenic Leptospira spp. are likely to encounter higher concentrations of reactive oxygen species induced by the host innate immune response. In this study, we characterized Leptospira interrogans catalase (KatE), the only annotated catalase found within pathogenic Leptospira species, by assessing its role in resistance to H2O2-induced oxidative stress and during infection in hamsters. Pathogenic L. interrogans bacteria had a 50-fold-higher survival rate under H2O2-induced oxidative stress than did saprophytic L. biflexa bacteria, and this was predominantly catalase dependent. We also characterized KatE, the only annotated catalase found within pathogenic Leptospira species. Catalase assays performed with recombinant KatE confirmed specific catalase activity, while protein fractionation experiments localized KatE to the bacterial periplasmic space. The insertional inactivation of katE in pathogenic Leptospira bacteria drastically diminished leptospiral viability in the presence of extracellular H2O2 and reduced virulence in an acute-infection model. Combined, these results suggest that L. interrogans KatE confers in vivo resistance to reactive oxygen species induced by the host innate immune response.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00466-12
PMCID: PMC3486042  PMID: 22927050
15.  Serovar Diversity of Pathogenic Leptospira Circulating in the French West Indies 
Background
Leptospirosis is one of the most important neglected tropical bacterial diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, very little is known about the circulating etiological agents of leptospirosis in this region. In this study, we describe the serological and molecular features of leptospires isolated from 104 leptospirosis patients in Guadeloupe (n = 85) and Martinique (n = 19) and six rats captured in Guadeloupe, between 2004 and 2012.
Methods and Findings
Strains were studied by serogrouping, PFGE, MLVA, and sequencing 16SrRNA and secY. DNA extracts from blood samples collected from 36 patients in Martinique were also used for molecular typing of leptospires via PCR. Phylogenetic analyses revealed thirteen different genotypes clustered into five main clades that corresponded to the species: L. interrogans, L. kirschneri, L. borgpetersenii, L. noguchi, and L. santarosai. We also identified L. kmetyi in at least two patients with acute leptospirosis. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that this species has been identified in humans. The most prevalent genotypes were associated with L. interrogans serovars Icterohaemorrhagiae and Copenhageni, L. kirschneri serovar Bogvere, and L. borgpetersenii serovar Arborea. We were unable to identify nine strains at the serovar level and comparison of genotyping results to the MLST database revealed new secY alleles.
Conclusions
The overall serovar distribution in the French West Indies was unique compared to the neighboring islands. Typing of leptospiral isolates also suggested the existence of previously undescribed serovars.
Author Summary
Leptospirosis is an emerging zoonotic disease caused by infection with pathogenic strains of Leptospira. Isolation of Leptospira strains is rare, making it difficult to assess their distribution worldwide. In this study, we characterized cultures of Leptospira obtained from more than one hundred leptospirosis patients from the French West Indies by serology and various molecular typing methods to identify the strains circulating in this endemic region. Typing of leptospiral isolates showed that causative agents of leptospirosis in the French West Indies are mainly from the serogroups Icterohaemorrhagiae and Ballum, but we also identified new genotypes. We also found that the distribution of the predominant pathogenic leptospiral serovars differed between the Caribbean islands. A better understanding of the epidemiology of leptospirosis will improve our knowledge in the distribution of this emerging neglected tropical disease worldwide. The identification of the circulating etiological agents of leptospirosis in the French West Indies will also help establish appropriate control and prevention measures in this area where the disease is endemic.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002114
PMCID: PMC3597474  PMID: 23516654
16.  Characterization of the Bat proteins in the oxidative stress response of Leptospira biflexa 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:290.
Background
Leptospires lack many of the homologs for oxidative defense present in other bacteria, but do encode homologs of the Bacteriodes aerotolerance (Bat) proteins, which have been proposed to fulfill this function. Bat homologs have been identified in all families of the phylum Spirochaetes, yet a specific function for these proteins has not been experimentally demonstrated.
Results
We investigated the contribution of the Bat proteins in the model organism Leptospira biflexa for their potential contributions to growth rate, morphology and protection against oxidative challenges. A genetically engineered mutant strain in which all bat ORFs were deleted did not exhibit altered growth rate or morphology, relative to the wild-type strain. Nor could we demonstrate a protective role for the Bat proteins in coping with various oxidative stresses. Further, pre-exposing L. biflexa to sublethal levels of reactive oxygen species did not appear to induce a general oxidative stress response, in contrast to what has been shown in other bacterial species. Differential proteomic analysis of the wild-type and mutant strains detected changes in the abundance of a single protein only – HtpG, which is encoded by the gene immediately downstream of the bat loci.
Conclusion
The data presented here do not support a protective role for the Leptospira Bat proteins in directly coping with oxidative stress as previously proposed. L. biflexa is relatively sensitive to reactive oxygen species such as superoxide and H2O2, suggesting that this spirochete lacks a strong, protective defense against oxidative damage despite being a strict aerobe.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-12-290
PMCID: PMC3557215  PMID: 23234440
17.  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.
doi:10.1128/IAI.00131-12
PMCID: PMC3370569  PMID: 22451522
18.  Leptospira: The Dawn of the Molecular Genetics Era for an Emerging Zoonotic Pathogen 
Nature Reviews. Microbiology  2009;7(10):736-747.
Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which has emerged as a major cause of morbidity and mortality among impoverished populations. One centenary after the discovery of the causative spirochaetal agent, little is understood of Leptospira pathogenesis, which in turn has hampered the identification of new intervention strategies to address this neglected disease. However the recent availability of complete genome sequences for Leptospira and discovery of genetic tools to transform the pathogen has led to major insights into the biology and pathogenesis of this pathogen. We discuss the life cycle of the bacterium and the new advances that have been made and their implications for the future prevention of this disease.
doi:10.1038/nrmicro2208
PMCID: PMC3384523  PMID: 19756012
19.  Deciphering Morphological Determinants of the Helix-Shaped Leptospira ▿ †  
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(22):6266-6275.
Leptospira spp. are thin, highly motile, slow-growing spirochetes that can be distinguished from other bacteria on the basis of their unique helical shape. Defining the mechanisms by which these bacteria generate and maintain this atypical morphology should greatly enhance our understanding of the fundamental physiology of these pathogens. In this study, we showed that peptidoglycan sacculi from Leptospira spp. retain the helical shape of intact cells. Interestingly, the distribution of muropeptides was different from that in the Escherichia coli model, indicating that specific enzymes might be active on the peptidoglycan macromolecule. We could alter the shape of Leptospira biflexa with the broad-spectrum β-lactam antibiotic penicillin G and with amdinocillin and aztreonam, which are β-lactams that preferentially target penicillin-binding protein 2 (PBP2) and PBP3, respectively, in some species. Although genetic manipulations of Leptospira spp. are scarce, we were able to obtain mutants with alterations in genes encoding PBPs, including PBP3. Loss of this protein resulted in cell elongation. We also generated an L. biflexa strain that conditionally expresses MreB. Loss of the MreB function was correlated with morphological abnormalities such as a localized increased diameter and heterogeneous length. A prolonged depletion of MreB resulted in cell lysis, suggesting that this protein is essential. These findings indicate that important aspects of leptospiral cell morphology are determined by the cytoskeleton and the murein layer, thus providing a starting point for a better understanding of the morphogenesis in these atypical bacteria.
doi:10.1128/JB.05695-11
PMCID: PMC3209227  PMID: 21926230
20.  Outbreak of Leptospirosis after a Race in the Tropical Forest of Martinique 
Three athletes who participated in a race in the tropical forest of the Caribbean island of Martinique were subsequently diagnosed with leptospirosis using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). We investigated an outbreak to evaluate possible risk factors, and to determine the appropriate public health recommendations. Of 230 athletes, we contacted 148 (64%) and 20 (13.5%) met our case definition. Five were hospitalized and none were fatal. Ten (91%) of the 11 ill athletes who were tested were confirmed by PCR or serology. Serogroup Pyrogenes was commonly found. Cutaneous cuts, reported by 14 (73.7%), was the only potential risk factor using univariate analysis. Sporting event participants in tropical areas should be made aware of specific warnings and recommendations concerning the risk of leptospirosis, especially after periods of heavy rainfall or flooding. Rapid diagnostic assays such as PCR are particularly appropriate in this setting for early diagnosis and for formulating public health recommendations.
doi:10.4269/ajtmh.2011.10-0502
PMCID: PMC3062459  PMID: 21460020
21.  Inactivation of clpB in the Pathogen Leptospira interrogans Reduces Virulence and Resistance to Stress Conditions ▿ †  
Infection and Immunity  2011;79(9):3711-3717.
Leptospira interrogans is the causative agent of leptospirosis, which is an emerging zoonotic disease. Resistance to stress conditions is largely uncharacterized for this bacterium. We therefore decided to analyze a clpB mutant that we obtained by random transposon mutagenesis. The mutant did not produce any of the two isoforms of ClpB. The clpB mutant exhibited growth defects at 30° and 37°C and in poor nutrient medium and showed increased susceptibility to oxidative stress, whereas the genetically complemented strain was restored in ClpB expression and in vitro wild-type growth. We also showed that the clpB mutant was attenuated in virulence in an animal model of acute leptospirosis. Our findings demonstrate that ClpB is involved in the general stress response. The chaperone is also necessary, either directly or indirectly, for the virulence of the pathogen L. interrogans.
doi:10.1128/IAI.05168-11
PMCID: PMC3165490  PMID: 21730091
22.  Comparison of Real-Time PCR Assays for Detection of Pathogenic Leptospira spp. in Blood and Identification of Variations in Target Sequences▿† 
Journal of Clinical Microbiology  2011;49(6):2154-2160.
Leptospirosis is considered an underdiagnosed disease. Although several PCR-based methods are currently in use, there is little information on their comparability. In this study, four quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assays (SYBR green and TaqMan chemistries) targeting the secY, lfb1, and lipL32 genes were evaluated as diagnostic assays. In our hands, these assays can detect between 102 and 103 bacteria/ml of pure culture, whole-blood, plasma, and serum samples. In three independent experiments, we found a slightly higher sensitivity of the PCR assays in plasma than in whole blood and serum. We also evaluated the specificity of the PCR assays on reference Leptospira strains, including newly described Leptospira species, and clinical isolates. No amplification was detected for DNA obtained from saprophytic or intermediate Leptospira species. However, among the pathogens, we identified sequence polymorphisms in target genes that result in primer and probe mismatches and affect qPCR assay performance. In conclusion, most of these assays are sensitive and specific tools for routine diagnosis of leptospirosis. However, it is important to continually evaluate and, if necessary, modify the primers and/or probes used to ensure effective detection of the circulating Leptospira isolates.
doi:10.1128/JCM.02452-10
PMCID: PMC3122738  PMID: 21471336
23.  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.
Background
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-129
PMCID: PMC3133549  PMID: 21658265
24.  Expanding the Genetic Toolbox for Leptospira Species by Generation of Fluorescent Bacteria ▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(24):8135-8142.
Our knowledge of the genetics and molecular basis of the pathogenesis associated with Leptospira, in comparison to those of other bacterial species, is very limited. An improved understanding of pathogenic mechanisms requires reliable genetic tools for functional genetic analysis. Here, we report the expression of gfp and mRFP1 genes under the control of constitutive spirochetal promoters in both saprophytic and pathogenic Leptospira strains. We were able to reliably measure the fluorescence of Leptospira by fluorescence microscopy and a fluorometric microplate reader-based assay. We showed that the expression of the gfp gene had no significant effects on growth in vivo and pathogenicity in L. interrogans. We constructed an expression vector for L. biflexa that contains the lacI repressor, an inducible lac promoter, and gfp as the reporter, demonstrating that the lac system is functional in Leptospira. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression was induced by the addition of isopropyl-β-d-thiogalactopyranoside (IPTG) in L. biflexa transformants harboring the expression vector. Finally, we showed that GFP can be used as a reporter to assess promoter activity in different environmental conditions. These results may facilitate further advances for studying the genetics of Leptospira spp.
doi:10.1128/AEM.02199-10
PMCID: PMC3008249  PMID: 21037299
25.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016879
PMCID: PMC3036719  PMID: 21347378

Results 1-25 (44)