Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic human pathogen that causes infections in a variety of animal and plant hosts. Caenorhabditis elegans is a simple model with which one can identify bacterial virulence genes. Previous studies with C. elegans have shown that depending on the growth medium, P. aeruginosa provokes different pathologies: slow or fast killing, lethal paralysis and red death. In this study, we developed a high-throughput semi-automated liquid-based assay such that an entire genome can readily be scanned for virulence genes in a short time period. We screened a 2,200-member STM mutant library generated in a cystic fibrosis airway P. aeruginosa isolate, TBCF10839. Twelve mutants were isolated each showing at least 70% attenuation in C. elegans killing. The selected mutants had insertions in regulatory genes, such as a histidine kinase sensor of two-component systems and a member of the AraC family, or in genes involved in adherence or chemotaxis. One mutant had an insertion in a cheB gene homologue, encoding a methylesterase involved in chemotaxis (CheB2). The cheB2 mutant was tested in a murine lung infection model and found to have a highly attenuated virulence. The cheB2 gene is part of the chemotactic gene cluster II, which was shown to be required for an optimal mobility in vitro. In P. aeruginosa, the main player in chemotaxis and mobility is the chemotactic gene cluster I, including cheB1. We show that, in contrast to the cheB2 mutant, a cheB1 mutant is not attenuated for virulence in C. elegans whereas in vitro motility and chemotaxis are severely impaired. We conclude that the virulence defect of the cheB2 mutant is not linked with a global motility defect but that instead the cheB2 gene is involved in a specific chemotactic response, which takes place during infection and is required for P. aeruginosa pathogenicity.
The increase in hospital acquired and multi-drug resistant bacterial infections calls for an urgent development of new antimicrobials. As such, the identification and characterization of novel molecular targets involved in bacterial virulence has become a common goal for researchers. The use of non-mammalian hosts, such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, is useful to accelerate this process. In our study, we developed a high-throughput screening method, which further facilitates the use of C. elegans, and allows the rapid screening of a large collection of bacterial mutants at the genomic scale. We have used Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a potent opportunistic pathogen, to perform this study. The screening of more than 2,000 mutant strains allowed the characterization of a mutant affected in the cheB2 gene. Importantly, this mutant was shown to be impaired in a mouse model of infection, supporting that our new screen is a good model to identify virulence genes relevant for infection in mammals. The cheB2 gene encodes a component of a chemotaxis pathway, which is likely involved in the perception of stimuli during the infection process, and allows an appropriate adaptive response for a successful infection. Our method could be applied to other bacterial pathogens and will help researchers discover candidate genes leading to the design of novel antimicrobials.