Phosphatidylcholine (PC), a common phospholipid of the eukaryotic cell membrane, is present in the cell envelope of the intracellular pathogen Brucella abortus, the etiological agent of bovine brucellosis. In this pathogen, the biosynthesis of PC proceeds mainly through the phosphatidylcholine synthase pathway; hence, it relies on the presence of choline in the milieu. These observations imply that B. abortus encodes an as-yet-unknown choline uptake system. Taking advantage of the requirement of choline uptake for PC synthesis, we devised a method that allowed us to identify a homologue of ChoX, the high-affinity periplasmic binding protein of the ABC transporter ChoXWV. Disruption of the choX gene completely abrogated PC synthesis at low choline concentrations in the medium, thus indicating that it is a high-affinity transporter needed for PC synthesis via the PC synthase (PCS) pathway. However, the synthesis of PC was restored when the mutant was incubated in media with higher choline concentrations, suggesting the presence of an alternative low-affinity choline uptake activity. By means of a fluorescence-based equilibrium-binding assay and using the kinetics of radiolabeled choline uptake, we show that ChoX binds choline with an extremely high affinity, and we also demonstrate that its activity is inhibited by increasing choline concentrations. Cell infection assays indicate that ChoX activity is required during the first phase of B. abortus intracellular traffic, suggesting that choline concentrations in the early and intermediate Brucella-containing vacuoles are limited. Altogether, these results suggest that choline transport and PC synthesis are strictly regulated in B. abortus.
Type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are multiprotein structures that direct the translocation of specific molecules across the bacterial cell envelope. As in other bacteria, pathogenicity of the genus Brucella essentially depends on the integrity of the T4SS-encoding virB operon, whose expression is regulated by multiple transcription factors belonging to different families. Previously, we identified IHF and HutC, two direct regulators of the virB genes that were isolated from total protein extracts of Brucella. Here, we report the identification of MdrA, a third regulatory element that was isolated using the same screening procedure. This transcription factor, which belongs to the MarR-family of transcriptional regulators, binds at two different sites of the virB promoter and regulates expression in a growth phase-dependent manner. Like other members of the MarR family, specific ligands were able to dissociate MdrA from DNA in vitro. Determination of the MdrA-binding sites by DNase I footprinting and analyses of protein-DNA complexes by electrophoresis mobility shift assays (EMSAs) showed that MdrA competes with IHF and HutC for the binding to the promoter because their target DNA sequences overlap. Unlike IHF, both MdrA and HutC bound to the promoter without inducing bending of DNA. Moreover, the two latter transcription factors activated virB expression to similar extents, and in doing so, they are functionally redundant. Taken together, our results show that MdrA is a regulatory element that directly modulates the activity of the virB promoter and is probably involved in coordinating gene expression in response to specific environmental signals.
Type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are specialized protein complexes used by many bacterial pathogens for the delivery of effector molecules that subvert varied host cellular processes. Brucella spp. are facultative intracellular pathogens capable of survival and replication inside mammalian cells. Brucella T4SS (VirB) is essential to subvert lysosome fusion and to create an organelle permissive for replication. One possible role for VirB is to translocate effector proteins that modulate host cellular functions for the biogenesis of the replicative organelle. We hypothesized that proteins with eukaryotic domains or protein-protein interaction domains, among others, would be good candidates for modulation of host cell functions. To identify these candidates, we performed an in silico screen looking for proteins with distinctive features. Translocation of 84 potential substrates was assayed using adenylate cyclase reporter. By this approach, we identified six proteins that are delivered to the eukaryotic cytoplasm upon infection of macrophage-like cells and we could determine that four of them, encoded by genes BAB1_1043, BAB1_2005, BAB1_1275 and BAB2_0123, require a functional T4SS for their delivery. We confirmed VirB-mediated translocation of one of the substrates by immunofluorescence confocal microscopy, and we found that the N-terminal 25 amino acids are required for its delivery into cells.
Ochrobactrum anthropi is a common soil alphaproteobacterium that colonizes a wide spectrum of organisms and is being increasingly recognized as an opportunistic human pathogen. Potentially life-threatening infections, such as endocarditis, are included in the list of reported O. anthropi infections. These reports, together with the scant number of studies and the organism's phylogenetic proximity to the highly pathogenic brucellae, make O. anthropi an attractive model of bacterial pathogenicity. Here we report the genome sequence of the type strain O. anthropi ATCC 49188, which revealed the presence of two chromosomes and four plasmids.
VjbR is a LuxR-type quorum-sensing (QS) regulator that plays an essential role in the virulence of the intracellular facultative pathogen Brucella, the causative agent of brucellosis. It was previously described that VjbR regulates a diverse group of genes, including the virB operon. The latter codes for a type IV secretion system (T4SS) that is central for the pathogenesis of Brucella. Although the regulatory role of VjbR on the virB promoter (PvirB) was extensively studied by different groups, the VjbR-binding site had not been identified so far. Here, we identified the target DNA sequence of VjbR in PvirB by DNase I footprinting analyses. Surprisingly, we observed that VjbR specifically recognizes a sequence that is identical to a half-binding site of the QS-related regulator MrtR of Mesorhizobium tianshanense. As shown by DNase I footprinting and electrophoretic mobility shift assays, generation of a palindromic MrtR-like-binding site in PvirB increased both the affinity and the stability of the VjbR-DNA complex, which confirmed that the QS regulator of Brucella is highly related to that of M. tianshanense. The addition of N-dodecanoyl homoserine lactone dissociated VjbR from the promoter, which confirmed previous reports that indicated a negative effect of this signal on the VjbR-mediated activation of PvirB. Our results provide new molecular evidence for the structure of the virB promoter and reveal unusual features of the QS target DNA sequence of the main regulator of virulence in Brucella.
Type IV secretion systems (T4SS) are multicomponent machineries involved in the translocation of effector molecules across the bacterial cell envelope. The virB operon of Brucella abortus codes for a T4SS that is essential for virulence and intracellular multiplication of the bacterium in the host. Previous studies showed that the virB operon of B. abortus is tightly regulated within the host cells. In order to identify factors implicated in the control of virB expression, we searched for proteins of Brucella that directly bind to the virB promoter (PvirB). Using different procedures, we isolated a 27-kDa protein that binds specifically to PvirB. This protein was identified as HutC, the transcriptional repressor of the histidine utilization (hut) genes. Analyses of virB and hut promoter activity revealed that HutC exerts two different roles: it acts as a coactivator of transcription of the virB operon, whereas it represses the hut genes. Such activities were observed both intracellularly and in bacteria incubated under conditions that resemble the intracellular environment. Electrophoresis mobility shift assays (EMSA) and DNase I footprinting experiments revealed the structure, affinity, and localization of the HutC-binding sites and supported the regulatory role of HutC in both hut and virB promoters. Taken together, these results indicate that Brucella coopted the function of HutC to coordinate the Hut pathway with transcriptional regulation of the virB genes, probably as a way to sense its own metabolic state and develop adaptive responses to overcome intracellular host defenses.
Brucellosis is a worldwide zoonosis that affects livestock and humans and is caused by closely related Brucella spp., which are adapted to intracellular life within cells of a large variety of mammals. Brucella can be considered a furtive pathogen that infects professional and non-professional phagocytes. In these cells Brucella survives in a replicative niche, which is characterized for having a very low oxygen tension and being deprived from nutrients such as amino acids and vitamins. Among these vitamins, we have focused on riboflavin (vitamin B2). Flavin metabolism has been barely implicated in bacterial virulence. We have recently described that Brucella and other Rhizobiales bear an atypical riboflavin metabolic pathway. In the present work we analyze the role of the flavin metabolism on Brucella virulence. Mutants on the two lumazine synthases (LS) isoenzymes RibH1 and RibH2 and a double RibH mutant were generated. These mutants and different complemented strains were tested for viability and virulence in cells and in mice. In this fashion we have established that at least one LS must be present for B. abortus survival and that RibH2 and not RibH1 is essential for intracellular survival due to its LS activity in vivo. In summary, we show that riboflavin biosynthesis is essential for Brucella survival inside cells or in mice. These results highlight the potential use of flavin biosynthetic pathway enzymes as targets for the chemotherapy of brucellosis.
The Brucella cell envelope contains the zwitterionic phospholipids phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE). Synthesis of PC occurs exclusively via the PC synthase pathway, implying that the pathogen depends on the choline synthesized by the host cell to form PC. Notably, PC is necessary to sustain a chronic infection process, which suggests that the membrane lipid content is relevant for Brucella virulence. In this study we investigated the first step of PE biosynthesis in B. abortus, which is catalyzed by phosphatidylserine synthase (PssA). Disruption of pssA abrogated the synthesis of PE without affecting the growth in rich complex medium. In minimal medium, however, the mutant required choline supplementation for growth, suggesting that at least PE or PC is necessary for Brucella viability. The absence of PE altered cell surface properties, but most importantly, it impaired several virulence traits of B. abortus, such as intracellular survival in both macrophages and HeLa cells, the maturation of the replicative Brucella-containing vacuole, and mouse colonization. These results suggest that membrane phospholipid composition is critical for the interaction of B. abortus with the host cell.
Campylobacter fetus subspecies venerealis is the causative agent of bovine genital campylobacteriosis, asymptomatic in bulls the disease is spread to female cattle causing extensive reproductive loss. The microbiological and molecular differentiation of C. fetus subsp. venerealis from C. fetus subsp. fetus is extremely difficult. This study describes the analysis of the available C. fetus subsp. venerealis AZUL-94 strain genome (~75–80%) to identify elements exclusively found in C. fetus subsp. venerealis strains as potential diagnostic targets and the characterisation of subspecies virulence genes.
Eighty Kb of genomic sequence (22 contigs) was identified as unique to C. fetus subsp. venerealis AZUL-94 and consisted of type IV secretory pathway components, putative plasmid genes and hypothetical proteins. Of the 9 PCR assays developed to target C. fetus subsp. venerealis type IV secretion system genes, 4 of these were specific for C. fetus subsp. venerealis biovar venerealis and did not detect C. fetus subsp. venerealis biovar intermedius. Two assays were specific for C. fetus subsp. venerealis AZUL-94 strain, with a further single assay specific for the AZUL-94 strain and C. fetus subsp. venerealis biovar intermedius (and not the remaining C. fetus subsp. venerealis biovar venerealis strains tested). C. fetus subsp. fetus and C. fetus subsp. venerealis were found to share most common Campylobacter virulence factors such as SAP, chemotaxis, flagellar biosynthesis, 2-component systems and cytolethal distending toxin subunits (A, B, C). We did not however, identify in C. fetus the full complement of bacterial adherence candidates commonly found in other Campylobacter spp.
The comparison of the available C. fetus subsp. venerealis genome sequence with the C. fetus subsp. fetus genome identified 80 kb of unique C. fetus subsp. venerealis AZUL94 sequence, with subsequent PCR confirmation demonstrating inconsistent amplification of these targets in all other C. fetus subsp. venerealis strains and biovars tested. The assays developed here highlight the complexity of targeting strain specific virulence genes for field studies for the molecular identification and epidemiology of C. fetus.
Choloylglycine hydrolase (CGH), a bile salt hydrolase, has been annotated in all the available genomes of Brucella species. We obtained the Brucella CGH in recombinant form and demonstrated in vitro its capacity to cleave glycocholate into glycine and cholate. Brucella abortus 2308 (wild type) and its isogenic Δcgh deletion mutant exhibited similar growth rates in tryptic soy broth in the absence of bile. In contrast, the growth of the Δcgh mutant was notably impaired by both 5% and 10% bile. The bile resistance of the complemented mutant was similar to that of the wild-type strain. In mice infected through the intragastric or the intraperitoneal route, splenic infection was significantly lower at 10 and 20 days postinfection in animals infected with the Δcgh mutant than in those infected with the wild-type strain. For both routes, no differences in spleen CFU were found between animals infected with the wild-type strain and those infected with the complemented mutant. Mice immunized intragastrically with recombinant CGH mixed with cholera toxin (CGH+CT) developed a specific mucosal humoral (immunoglobulin G [IgG] and IgA) and cellular (interleukin-2) immune responses. Fifteen days after challenge by the same route with live B. abortus 2308 cells, splenic CFU counts were 10-fold lower in mice immunized with CGH+CT than in mice immunized with CT or phosphate-buffered saline. This study shows that CGH confers on Brucella the ability to resist the antimicrobial action of bile salts. The results also suggest that CGH may contribute to the ability of Brucella to infect the host through the oral route.
The Brucella cell envelope is characterized by the presence of phosphatidylcholine (PC), a common phospholipid in eukaryotes that is rare in prokaryotes. Studies on the composition of Brucella abortus 2308 phospholipids revealed that the synthesis of PC depends on the presence of choline in the culture medium, suggesting that the methylation biosynthetic pathway is not functional. Phospholipid composition of pmtA and pcs mutants indicated that in Brucella, PC synthesis occurs exclusively via the phosphatidylcholine synthase pathway. Transformation of Escherichia coli with an expression vector containing the B. abortus pcs homologue was sufficient for PC synthesis upon induction with IPTG (isopropyl-β-d-thiogalactopyranoside), while no PC formation was detected when bacteria were transformed with a vector containing pmtA. These findings imply that Brucella depends on choline provided by the host cell to form PC. We could not detect any obvious associated phenotype in the PC-deficient strain under vegetative or intracellular growth conditions in macrophages. However, the pcs mutant strain displays a reproducible virulence defect in mice, which suggests that PC is necessary to sustain a chronic infection process.
Despite their high DNA identity and a proposal to group classical Brucella species as biovars of Brucella melitensis, the commonly recognized Brucella species can be distinguished by distinct biochemical and fatty acid characters, as well as by a marked host range (e.g., Brucella suis for swine, B. melitensis for sheep and goats, and Brucella abortus for cattle). Here we present the genome of B. abortus 2308, the virulent prototype biovar 1 strain, and its comparison to the two other human pathogenic Brucella species and to B. abortus field isolate 9-941. The global distribution of pseudogenes, deletions, and insertions supports previous indications that B. abortus and B. melitensis share a common ancestor that diverged from B. suis. With the exception of a dozen genes, the genetic complements of both B. abortus strains are identical, whereas the three species differ in gene content and pseudogenes. The pattern of species-specific gene inactivations affecting transcriptional regulators and outer membrane proteins suggests that these inactivations may play an important role in the establishment of host specificity and may have been a primary driver of speciation in the genus Brucella. Despite being nonmotile, the brucellae contain flagellum gene clusters and display species-specific flagellar gene inactivations, which lead to the putative generation of different versions of flagellum-derived structures and may contribute to differences in host specificity and virulence. Metabolic changes such as the lack of complete metabolic pathways for the synthesis of numerous compounds (e.g., glycogen, biotin, NAD, and choline) are consistent with adaptation of brucellae to an intracellular life-style.
As part of a Brucella abortus 2308 genome project carried out in our laboratory, we identified, cloned, and sequenced a genomic DNA fragment containing a locus (virB) highly homologous to bacterial type IV secretion systems. The B. abortus virB locus is a collinear arrangement of 13 open reading frames (ORFs). Between virB1 and virB2 and downstream of ORF12, two degenerated, palindromic repeat sequences characteristic of Brucella intergenic regions were found. Gene reporter studies demonstrated that the B. abortus virB locus constitutes an operon transcribed from virB1 which is turned on during the stationary phase of growth. A B. abortus polar virB1 mutant failed to replicate in HeLa cells, indicating that the virB operon plays a critical role in intracellular multiplication. Mutants with polar and nonpolar mutations introduced in virB10 showed different behaviors in mice and in the HeLa cell infection assay, suggesting that virB10 per se is necessary for the correct function of this type IV secretion apparatus. Mouse infection assays demonstrated that the virB operon constitutes a major determinant of B. abortus virulence. It is suggested that putative effector molecules secreted by this type IV secretion system determine routing of B. abortus to an endoplasmic reticulum-related replication compartment.
A vector for the expression of foreign antigens in the vaccine strain Brucella abortus S19 was developed by using a DNA fragment containing the regulatory sequences and the signal peptide of the Brucella bcsp31 gene. This fragment was cloned in broad-host-range plasmid pBBR4MCS, resulting in plasmid pBEV. As a reporter protein, a repetitive antigen of Trypanosoma cruzi was used. The recombinant fusion protein is stably expressed and secreted into the Brucella periplasmic space, inducing a good antibody response against the T. cruzi antigen. The expression of the repetitive antigen in Brucella neither altered its growth pattern nor generated a toxic or lethal effect during experimental infection. The application of this strategy for the generation of live recombinant vaccines and the tagging of B. abortus S19 vaccine is discussed. This is the first time that a recombinant protein has been expressed in the periplasm of brucellae.
Brucellosis is a highly contagious zoonosis and still a major human health problem in endemic areas of the world. Although several diagnostic tools are available, most of them are difficult to implement especially in developing countries where complex health facilities are limited. Taking advantage of the identical structure and composition of the Brucella spp. and Yersinia enterocolitica O:9 O-polysaccharide, we explored the application of a recombinant Y. enterocolitica O:9-polysaccharide-protein conjugate (OAg-AcrA) as a novel antigen for diagnosis of human brucellosis. We have developed and validated an indirect immunoassay using OAg-AcrA coupled to magnetic beads. OAg-AcrA was produced and purified with high yields in Y. enterocolitica O:9 cells co-expressing the oligosaccharyltransferase PglB and the protein acceptor AcrA of Campylobacter jejuni without the need for culturing Brucella. Expression of PglB and AcrA in Y. enterocolitica resulted in the transfer of the host O-polysaccharide from its lipid carrier to AcrA. To validate the assay and determine the cutoff values, a receiver-operating characteristic analysis was performed using a panel of characterized serum samples obtained from healthy individuals and patients of different clinical groups. Our results indicate that, using this assay, it is possible to detect infection caused by the three main human brucellosis agents (B. abortus, B. melitensis and B. suis) and select different cutoff points to adjust sensitivity and specificity levels as needed. A cutoff value of 13.20% gave a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 98.57%, and a cutoff value of 16.15% resulted in a test sensitivity and specificity of 93.48% and 100%, respectively. The high diagnostic accuracy, low cost, reduced assay time and simplicity of this new glycoconjugate-magnetic beads assay makes it an attractive diagnostic tool for using not only in clinics and brucellosis reference laboratories but also in locations with limited laboratory infrastructure and/or minimally trained community health workers.
Brucellosis is one of the most widespread zoonoses in the world and still represents a mayor animal and human health problem in many endemic areas. Central for early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of the disease in humans is to have an easy to implement, fast and accurate diagnostic test for the disease. Currently, most of the diagnostic tests for human brucellosis are not of simple implementation in areas where laboratory infrastructure or trained personnel are not available. We present here a novel and simple diagnostic test for human brucellosis using a glyco-engineered antigen coupled to magnetic beads. Our results show that, with this new method, it is possible to detect infection caused by the three main human brucellosis agents with high sensitivity and specificity. We additionally demonstrate that this assay allows the selection of different cutoff points so that the desired operating characteristics of the test in terms of diagnostic sensitivity and specificity can be adjusted according to the needs of the operator. We believe that the high accuracy, low cost and simplicity of this new test makes it an attractive diagnostic tool not only for clinics and brucellosis reference laboratories but also for locations with limited laboratory infrastructure and/or minimally trained community health workers.
Several bacterial pathogens have TIR domain-containing proteins that contribute to their pathogenesis. We identified a second TIR-containing protein in Brucella spp. that we have designated BtpB. We show it is a potent inhibitor of TLR signaling, probably via MyD88. BtpB is a novel Brucella effector that is translocated into host cells and interferes with activation of dendritic cells. In vivo mouse studies revealed that BtpB is contributing to virulence and control of local inflammatory responses with relevance in the establishment of chronic brucellosis. Together, our results show that BtpB is a novel Brucella effector that plays a major role in the modulation of host innate immune response during infection.
Brucella; TIR domain; Btp1/BtpA; TLR; DC; NF-κB
Immune responses directed towards surface polysaccharides conjugated to proteins are effective in preventing colonization and infection of bacterial pathogens. Presently, the production of these conjugate vaccines requires intricate synthetic chemistry for obtaining, activating, and attaching the polysaccharides to protein carriers. Glycoproteins generated by engineering bacterial glycosylation machineries have been proposed to be a viable alternative to traditional conjugation methods.
In this work we expressed the C. jejuni oligosaccharyltansferase (OTase) PglB, responsible for N-linked protein glycosylation together with a suitable acceptor protein (AcrA) in Yersinia enterocolitica O9 cells. MS analysis of the acceptor protein demonstrated the transfer of a polymer of N-formylperosamine to AcrA in vivo. Because Y. enterocolitica O9 and Brucella abortus share an identical O polysaccharide structure, we explored the application of the resulting glycoprotein in vaccinology and diagnostics of brucellosis, one of the most common zoonotic diseases with over half a million new cases annually. Injection of the glycoprotein into mice generated an IgG response that recognized the O antigen of Brucella, although this response was not protective against a challenge with a virulent B. abortus strain. The recombinant glycoprotein coated onto magnetic beads was efficient in differentiating between naïve and infected bovine sera.
Bacterial engineered glycoproteins show promising applications for the development on an array of diagnostics and immunoprotective opportunities in the future.
Brucellosis diagnostics; glycoengineering; Yersinia enterocolitica O9; N-linked protein glycosylation
Choloylglycine hydrolase (CGH, E.C. 126.96.36.199) is a conjugated bile salt hydrolase that catalyses the hydrolysis of the amide bond in conjugated bile acids. Bile salt hydrolases are expressed by gastrointestinal bacteria, and they presumably decrease the toxicity of host's conjugated bile salts. Brucella species are the causative agents of brucellosis, a disease affecting livestock and humans. CGH confers Brucella the ability to deconjugate and resist the antimicrobial action of bile salts, contributing to the establishment of a successful infection through the oral route in mice. Additionally, cgh-deletion mutant was also attenuated in intraperitoneally inoculated mice, which suggests that CGH may play a role during systemic infection other than hydrolyzing conjugated bile acids. To understand the role CGH plays in B. abortus virulence, we infected phagocytic and epithelial cells with a cgh-deletion mutant (Δcgh) and found that it is defective in the internalization process. This defect along with the increased resistance of Δcgh to the antimicrobial action of polymyxin B, prompted an analysis of the cell envelope of this mutant. Two-dimensional electrophoretic profiles of Δcgh cell envelope-associated proteins showed an altered expression of Omp2b and different members of the Omp25/31 family. These results were confirmed by Western blot analysis with monoclonal antibodies. Altogether, the results indicate that Brucella CGH not only participates in deconjugation of bile salts but also affects overall membrane composition and host cell internalization.
Brucella is an intracellular pathogen able to persist for long periods of time within the host and establish a chronic disease. We show that soon after Brucella inoculation in intestinal loops, dendritic cells from ileal Peyer's patches become infected and constitute a cell target for this pathogen. In vitro, we found that Brucella replicates within dendritic cells and hinders their functional activation. In addition, we identified a new Brucella protein Btp1, which down-modulates maturation of infected dendritic cells by interfering with the TLR2 signaling pathway. These results show that intracellular Brucella is able to control dendritic cell function, which may have important consequences in the development of chronic brucellosis.
A key determinant for intracellular pathogenic bacteria to induce infectious diseases is their ability to avoid recognition by the host immune system. Although most microorganisms internalized by host cells are efficiently cleared, Brucella behave as a Trojan horse causing a zoonosis called brucellosis that affects both humans and animals. Here we show that pathogenic Brucella are able to target host cell defense mechanisms by controlling the function of the sentinels of the immune system, the dendritic cells. In particular, the Brucella TIR-containing protein (Btp1) targets the Toll-like receptor 2 activation pathway, which is a major host response system involved in bacterial recognition. Btp1 is involved in the inhibition of dendritic cell maturation. The direct consequence is a control of inflammatory cytokine secretion and antigen presentation to T lymphocytes. These bacterial proteins are not specific for Brucella and have been identified in other pathogens and may be part of a general virulence mechanism used by several intracellular pathogens to induce disease.