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1.  Dynamics of Infant Gut Microbiota Are Influenced by Delivery Mode and Gestational Duration and Are Associated with Subsequent Adiposity 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02419-14.
ABSTRACT 
We found that the relatively simple microbiota of young infants shifts predictably to a more mature anaerobic microbiota during infancy and the dynamics of this shift are influenced by environmental factors. In this longitudinal study of 75 infants, we demonstrate high interindividual variability within the normal range of birth outcomes, especially in the rate of microbiota progression. Most had acquired a microbiota profile high in Bifidobacterium and Collinsella by 6 months of age, but the time point of this acquisition was later in infants delivered by caesarean section and those born after a shorter duration of gestation. Independently of the delivery mode and gestation duration, infants who acquired a profile high in Bifidobacterium and Collinsella at a later age had lower adiposity at 18 months of age.
IMPORTANCE  This study shows that the acquisition of the early microbiota is strongly influenced by environmental factors such as the delivery mode and duration of gestation, even in healthy neonates. The composition of the early microbiota has been linked with long-lasting effects on health and disease. Here we show that the rate of acquisition of certain microbiota predicts adiposity at 18 months of age and so potentially the risk of later obesity.
IMPORTANCE 
This study shows that the acquisition of the early microbiota is strongly influenced by environmental factors such as the delivery mode and duration of gestation, even in healthy neonates. The composition of the early microbiota has been linked with long-lasting effects on health and disease. Here we show that the rate of acquisition of certain microbiota predicts adiposity at 18 months of age and so potentially the risk of later obesity.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02419-14
PMCID: PMC4323417  PMID: 25650398
2.  CceR and AkgR Regulate Central Carbon and Energy Metabolism in Alphaproteobacteria 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02461-14.
ABSTRACT 
Many pathways of carbon and energy metabolism are conserved across the phylogeny, but the networks that regulate their expression or activity often vary considerably among organisms. In this work, we show that two previously uncharacterized transcription factors (TFs) are direct regulators of genes encoding enzymes of central carbon and energy metabolism in the alphaproteobacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides. The LacI family member CceR (RSP_1663) directly represses genes encoding enzymes in the Entner-Doudoroff pathway, while activating those encoding the F1F0 ATPase and enzymes of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and gluconeogenesis, providing a direct transcriptional network connection between carbon and energy metabolism. We identified bases that are important for CceR DNA binding and showed that DNA binding by this TF is inhibited by 6-phosphogluconate. We also showed that the GntR family TF AkgR (RSP_0981) directly activates genes encoding several TCA cycle enzymes, and we identified conditions where its activity is increased. The properties of single and double ΔCceR and ΔAkgR mutants illustrate that these 2 TFs cooperatively regulate carbon and energy metabolism. Comparative genomic analysis indicates that CceR and AkgR orthologs are found in other alphaproteobacteria, where they are predicted to have a conserved function in regulating central carbon metabolism. Our characterization of CceR and AkgR has provided important new insight into the networks that control central carbon and energy metabolism in alphaproteobacteria that can be exploited to modify or engineer new traits in these widespread and versatile bacteria.
IMPORTANCE
To extract and conserve energy from nutrients, cells coordinate a set of metabolic pathways into integrated networks. Many pathways that conserve energy or interconvert metabolites are conserved across cells, but the networks regulating these processes are often highly variable. In this study, we characterize two previously unknown transcriptional regulators of carbon and energy metabolism that are conserved in alphaproteobacteria, a group of abundant, environmentally and biotechnologically important organisms. We identify the genes they regulate, the DNA sequences they recognize, the metabolite that controls the activity of one of the regulators, and conditions where they are required for growth. We provide important new insight into conserved cellular networks that can also be used to improve a variety of hosts for converting feedstock into valuable products.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02461-14
PMCID: PMC4323418  PMID: 25650399
3.  Analyses of Alternatively Processed Genes in Ciliates Provide Insights into the Origins of Scrambled Genomes and May Provide a Mechanism for Speciation 
mBio  2015;6(1):e01998-14.
ABSTRACT 
Chromosome rearrangements occur in a variety of eukaryotic life cycles, including during the development of the somatic macronuclear genome in ciliates. Previous work on the phyllopharyngean ciliate Chilodonella uncinata revealed that macronuclear β-tubulin and protein kinase gene families share alternatively processed germ line segments nested within divergent regions. To study genome evolution in this ciliate further, we characterized two additional alternatively processed gene families from two cryptic species of the ciliate morphospecies C. uncinata: those encoding histidine acid phosphatase protein (Hap) and leishmanolysin family protein (Lei). Analyses of the macronuclear Hap and Lei sequences reveal that each gene family consists of three members in the macronucleus that are marked by identical regions nested among highly divergent regions. Investigation of the micronuclear Hap sequences revealed a complex pattern in which the three macronuclear sequences are derived either from a single micronuclear region or from a combination of this shared region recombined with additional duplicate micronuclear copies of Hap. We propose a model whereby gene scrambling evolves by gene duplication followed by partial and reciprocal degradation of the duplicate sequences. In this model, alternative processing represents an intermediate step in the evolution of scrambled genes. Finally, we speculate on the possible role of genome architecture in speciation in ciliates by describing what might happen if changes in alternatively processed loci occur in subdivided populations.
IMPORTANCE  Genome rearrangements occur in a variety of eukaryotic cells and serve as an important mechanism for generating genomic diversity. The unusual genome architecture of ciliates with separate germline and somatic nuclei in each cell, provides an ideal system to study further principles of genome evolution. Previous analyses revealed complex forms of chromosome rearrangements, including gene scrambling and alternative processing of germ line chromosomes. Here we describe more complex rearrangements between germ line and somatic chromosomes than previously seen in alternatively processed gene families. Drawing on the present and previous findings, we propose a model in which alternative processing of duplicated micronuclear regions represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of scrambled genes. Under this model, alternative processing may provide insights into a mechanism for speciation in ciliates. Our data on gene scrambling and alternative processing also enhance views on the dynamic nature of genomes across the eukaryotic tree of life.
IMPORTANCE 
Genome rearrangements occur in a variety of eukaryotic cells and serve as an important mechanism for generating genomic diversity. The unusual genome architecture of ciliates with separate germline and somatic nuclei in each cell, provides an ideal system to study further principles of genome evolution. Previous analyses revealed complex forms of chromosome rearrangements, including gene scrambling and alternative processing of germ line chromosomes. Here we describe more complex rearrangements between germ line and somatic chromosomes than previously seen in alternatively processed gene families. Drawing on the present and previous findings, we propose a model in which alternative processing of duplicated micronuclear regions represents an intermediate stage in the evolution of scrambled genes. Under this model, alternative processing may provide insights into a mechanism for speciation in ciliates. Our data on gene scrambling and alternative processing also enhance views on the dynamic nature of genomes across the eukaryotic tree of life.
doi:10.1128/mBio.01998-14
PMCID: PMC4324306  PMID: 25650397
4.  A Burkholderia pseudomallei Colony Variant Necessary for Gastric Colonization 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02462-14.
ABSTRACT 
Diverse colony morphologies are a hallmark of Burkholderia pseudomallei recovered from infected patients. We observed that stresses that inhibit aerobic respiration shifted populations of B. pseudomallei from the canonical white colony morphotype toward two distinct, reversible, yet relatively stable yellow colony variants (YA and YB). As accumulating evidence supports the importance of B. pseudomallei enteric infection and gastric colonization, we tested the response of yellow variants to hypoxia, acidity, and stomach colonization. Yellow variants exhibited a competitive advantage under hypoxic and acidic conditions and alkalized culture media. The YB variant, although highly attenuated in acute virulence, was the only form capable of colonization and persistence in the murine stomach. The accumulation of extracellular DNA (eDNA) was a characteristic of YB as observed by 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) staining of gastric tissues, as well as in an in vitro stomach model where large amounts of eDNA were produced without cell lysis. Transposon mutagenesis identified a transcriptional regulator (BPSL1887, designated YelR) that when overexpressed produced the yellow phenotype. Deletion of yelR blocked a shift from white to the yellow forms. These data demonstrate that YB is a unique B. pseudomallei pathovariant controlled by YelR that is specifically adapted to the harsh gastric environment and necessary for persistent stomach colonization.
IMPORTANCE  Seemingly uniform populations of bacteria often contain subpopulations that are genetically identical but display unique characteristics which offer advantages when the population is faced with infrequent but predictable stresses. The pathogen Burkholderia pseudomallei is capable of forming several reversible colony types, and it interconverted between one white type and two yellow types under certain environmental stresses. The two yellow forms exhibited distinct advantages in low-oxygen and acidic environments. One yellow colony variant was the only form capable of chronic stomach colonization. Areas of gastric infection were marked by bacteria encased in a DNA matrix, and the yellow forms were able to produce large amounts of extracellular DNA in vitro. We also identified the regulator in control of yellow colony variant formation. These findings demonstrate a role in infection for colony variation and provide a mechanism for chronic stomach colonization—a frequently overlooked niche in melioidosis.
IMPORTANCE 
Seemingly uniform populations of bacteria often contain subpopulations that are genetically identical but display unique characteristics which offer advantages when the population is faced with infrequent but predictable stresses. The pathogen Burkholderia pseudomallei is capable of forming several reversible colony types, and it interconverted between one white type and two yellow types under certain environmental stresses. The two yellow forms exhibited distinct advantages in low-oxygen and acidic environments. One yellow colony variant was the only form capable of chronic stomach colonization. Areas of gastric infection were marked by bacteria encased in a DNA matrix, and the yellow forms were able to produce large amounts of extracellular DNA in vitro. We also identified the regulator in control of yellow colony variant formation. These findings demonstrate a role in infection for colony variation and provide a mechanism for chronic stomach colonization—a frequently overlooked niche in melioidosis.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02462-14
PMCID: PMC4324314  PMID: 25650400
5.  α-2,3-Sialyltransferase Expression Level Impacts the Kinetics of Lipooligosaccharide Sialylation, Complement Resistance, and the Ability of Neisseria gonorrhoeae to Colonize the Murine Genital Tract 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02465-14.
ABSTRACT 
Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeae modify the terminal lacto-N-neotetraose moiety of their lipooligosaccharide (LOS) with sialic acid. N. gonorrhoeae LOS sialylation blocks killing by complement, which is mediated at least in part by enhanced binding of the complement inhibitor factor H (FH). The role of LOS sialylation in resistance of N. meningitidis to serum killing is less well defined. Sialylation in each species is catalyzed by the enzyme LOS α-2,3-sialyltransferase (Lst). Previous studies have shown increased Lst activity in N. gonorrhoeae compared to N. meningitidis due to an ~5-fold increase in lst transcription. Using isogenic N. gonorrhoeae strains engineered to express gonococcal lst from either the N. gonorrhoeae or N. meningitidis lst promoter, we show that decreased expression of lst (driven by the N. meningitidis promoter) reduced LOS sialylation as determined by less incorporation of tritium-labeled cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid (CMP-NANA; the donor molecule for sialic acid). Diminished LOS sialylation resulted in reduced rates of FH binding and increased pathway activation compared to N. gonorrhoeae promoter-driven lst expression. The N. meningitidis lst promoter generated sufficient Lst to sialylate N. gonorrhoeae LOS in vivo, and the level of sialylation after 24 h in the mouse genital tract was sufficient to mediate resistance to human serum ex vivo. Despite demonstrable LOS sialylation in vivo, gonococci harboring the N. meningitidis lst promoter were outcompeted by those with the N. gonorrhoeae lst promoter during coinfection of the vaginal tract of estradiol-treated mice. These data highlight the importance of high lst expression levels for gonococcal pathogenesis.
IMPORTANCE  Neisseria gonorrhoeae has become resistant to nearly every therapeutic antibiotic used and is listed as an “urgent threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Novel therapies are needed to combat drug-resistant N. gonorrhoeae. Gonococci express an α-2,3-sialyltransferase (Lst) that can scavenge sialic acid from the host and use it to modify lipooligosaccharide (LOS). Sialylation of gonococcal LOS converts serum-sensitive strains to serum resistance, decreases antibody binding, and combats killing by neutrophils and antimicrobial peptides. Mutant N. gonorrhoeae that lack Lst (cannot sialylate LOS) are attenuated in a mouse model. Lst expression levels differ among N. gonorrhoeae strains, and N. gonorrhoeae typically expresses more Lst than Neisseria meningitidis. Here we examined the significance of differential lst expression levels and determined that the level of LOS sialylation is critical to the ability of N. gonorrhoeae to combat the immune system and survive in an animal model. LOS sialylation may be an ideal target for novel therapies.
IMPORTANCE 
Neisseria gonorrhoeae has become resistant to nearly every therapeutic antibiotic used and is listed as an “urgent threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Novel therapies are needed to combat drug-resistant N. gonorrhoeae. Gonococci express an α-2,3-sialyltransferase (Lst) that can scavenge sialic acid from the host and use it to modify lipooligosaccharide (LOS). Sialylation of gonococcal LOS converts serum-sensitive strains to serum resistance, decreases antibody binding, and combats killing by neutrophils and antimicrobial peptides. Mutant N. gonorrhoeae that lack Lst (cannot sialylate LOS) are attenuated in a mouse model. Lst expression levels differ among N. gonorrhoeae strains, and N. gonorrhoeae typically expresses more Lst than Neisseria meningitidis. Here we examined the significance of differential lst expression levels and determined that the level of LOS sialylation is critical to the ability of N. gonorrhoeae to combat the immune system and survive in an animal model. LOS sialylation may be an ideal target for novel therapies.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02465-14
PMCID: PMC4324315  PMID: 25650401
8.  Origins of Transcriptional Transition: Balance between Upstream and Downstream Regulatory Gene Sequences 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02182-14.
ABSTRACT
By measuring individual mRNA production at the single-cell level, we investigated the lac promoter’s transcriptional transition during cell growth phases. In exponential phase, variation in transition rates generates two mixed phenotypes, low and high numbers of mRNAs, by modulating their burst frequency and sizes. Independent activation of the regulatory-gene sequence does not produce bimodal populations at the mRNA level, but bimodal populations are produced when the regulatory gene is activated coordinately with the upstream and downstream region promoter sequence (URS and DRS, respectively). Time-lapse microscopy of mRNAs for lac and a variant lac promoter confirm this observation. Activation of the URS/DRS elements of the promoter reveals a counterplay behavior during cell phases. The promoter transition rate coupled with cell phases determines the mRNA and transcriptional noise. We further show that bias in partitioning of RNA does not lead to phenotypic switching. Our results demonstrate that the balance between the URS and the DRS in transcriptional regulation determines population diversity.
IMPORTANCE
By measuring individual mRNA production at the single-cell level, we investigated the lac promoter transcriptional transition during cell growth phases. In exponential phase, variation in transition rate generates two mixed phenotypes producing low and high numbers of mRNAs by modulating the burst frequency and size. Independent activation of the regulatory gene sequence does not produce bimodal populations at the mRNA level, while it does when activated together through the coordination of upstream/downstream promoter sequences (URS/DRS). Time-lapse microscopy of mRNAs for lac and a lac variant promoter confirm this observation. Activation of the URS/DRS elements of the promoter reveals a counterplay behavior during cell phases. The promoter transition rate coupled with cell phases determines the mRNA and transcriptional noise. We further show that bias in partitioning of RNA does not lead to phenotypic switching. Our results demonstrate that the balance between URS and DRS in transcription regulation is determining the population diversity.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02182-14
PMCID: PMC4324307  PMID: 25626902
9.  High-Throughput Metagenomic Technologies for Complex Microbial Community Analysis: Open and Closed Formats 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02288-14.
ABSTRACT  
Understanding the structure, functions, activities and dynamics of microbial communities in natural environments is one of the grand challenges of 21st century science. To address this challenge, over the past decade, numerous technologies have been developed for interrogating microbial communities, of which some are amenable to exploratory work (e.g., high-throughput sequencing and phenotypic screening) and others depend on reference genes or genomes (e.g., phylogenetic and functional gene arrays). Here, we provide a critical review and synthesis of the most commonly applied “open-format” and “closed-format” detection technologies. We discuss their characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages within the context of environmental applications and focus on analysis of complex microbial systems, such as those in soils, in which diversity is high and reference genomes are few. In addition, we discuss crucial issues and considerations associated with applying complementary high-throughput molecular technologies to address important ecological questions.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02288-14
PMCID: PMC4324309  PMID: 25626903
10.  The Lipid-Modifying Multiple Peptide Resistance Factor Is an Oligomer Consisting of Distinct Interacting Synthase and Flippase Subunits 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02340-14.
ABSTRACT 
Phospholipids are synthesized at the inner leaflet of the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane but have to be translocated to the outer leaflet to maintain membrane lipid bilayer composition and structure. Even though phospholipid flippases have been proposed to exist in bacteria, only one such protein, MprF, has been described. MprF is a large integral membrane protein found in several prokaryotic phyla, whose C terminus modifies phosphatidylglycerol (PG), the most common bacterial phospholipid, with lysine or alanine to modulate the membrane surface charge and, as a consequence, confer resistance to cationic antimicrobial agents such as daptomycin. In addition, MprF is a flippase for the resulting lipids, Lys-PG or Ala-PG. Here we demonstrate that the flippase activity resides in the N-terminal 6 to 8 transmembrane segments of the Staphylococcus aureus MprF and that several conserved, charged amino acids and a proline residue are crucial for flippase function. MprF protects S. aureus against the membrane-active antibiotic daptomycin only when both domains are present, but the two parts do not need to be covalently linked and can function in trans. The Lys-PG synthase and flippase domains were each found to homo-oligomerize and also to interact with each other, which illustrates how the two functional domains may act together. Moreover, full-length MprF proteins formed oligomers, indicating that MprF functions as a dimer or larger oligomer. Together our data reveal how bacterial phospholipid flippases may function in the context of lipid biosynthetic processes.
Importance  Bacterial cytoplasmic membranes are crucial for maintaining and protecting cellular integrity. For instance, they have to cope with membrane-damaging agents such as cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) produced by competing bacteria (bacteriocins), secreted by eukaryotic host cells (defensins), or used as antimicrobial therapy (daptomycin). The MprF protein is found in many Gram-positive, Gram-negative, and even archaeal commensals or pathogens and confers resistance to CAMPs by modifying anionic phospholipids with amino acids, thereby compromising the membrane interaction of CAMPs. Here we describe how MprF does not only modify phospholipids but uses an additional, distinct domain for translocating the resulting lysinylated phospholipids to the outer leaflet of the membrane. We reveal critical details for the structure and function of MprF, the first dedicated prokaryotic phospholipid flippase, which may pave the way for targeting MprF with new antimicrobials that would not kill bacteria but sensitize them to antibiotics and innate host defense molecules.
Importance 
Bacterial cytoplasmic membranes are crucial for maintaining and protecting cellular integrity. For instance, they have to cope with membrane-damaging agents such as cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) produced by competing bacteria (bacteriocins), secreted by eukaryotic host cells (defensins), or used as antimicrobial therapy (daptomycin). The MprF protein is found in many Gram-positive, Gram-negative, and even archaeal commensals or pathogens and confers resistance to CAMPs by modifying anionic phospholipids with amino acids, thereby compromising the membrane interaction of CAMPs. Here we describe how MprF does not only modify phospholipids but uses an additional, distinct domain for translocating the resulting lysinylated phospholipids to the outer leaflet of the membrane. We reveal critical details for the structure and function of MprF, the first dedicated prokaryotic phospholipid flippase, which may pave the way for targeting MprF with new antimicrobials that would not kill bacteria but sensitize them to antibiotics and innate host defense molecules.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02340-14
PMCID: PMC4324311  PMID: 25626904
11.  Inflammasome Activation Contributes to Interleukin-23 Production in Response to Clostridium difficile 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02386-14.
ABSTRACT  
Clostridium difficile is the most common hospital-acquired pathogen, causing antibiotic-associated diarrhea in over 250,000 patients annually in the United States. Disease is primarily mediated by toxins A and B, which induce potent proinflammatory signaling in host cells and can activate an ASC-containing inflammasome. Recent findings suggest that the intensity of the host response to infection correlates with disease severity. Our lab has identified the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-23 (IL-23) as a pathogenic mediator during C. difficile infection (CDI). The mechanisms by which C. difficile induces IL-23, however, are not well understood, and the role of toxins A and B in this process is unclear. Here, we show that toxins A and B alone are not sufficient for IL-23 production but synergistically increase the amount of IL-23 produced in response to MyD88-dependent danger signals, including pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and host-derived damage associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). Danger signals also enhanced the secretion of IL-1β in response to toxins A and B, and subsequent IL-1 receptor signaling accounted for the majority of the increase in IL-23 that occurred in the presence of the toxins. Inhibition of inflammasome activation in the presence of extracellular K+ likewise decreased IL-23 production. Finally, we found that IL-1β was increased in the serum of patients with CDI, suggesting that this systemic response could influence downstream production of pathogenic IL-23. Identification of the synergy of danger signals with toxins A and B via inflammasome signaling represents a novel finding in the mechanistic understanding of C. difficile-induced inflammation.
IMPORTANCE
Clostridium difficile is among the leading causes of death due to health care-associated infection, and factors determining disease severity are not well understood. C. difficile secretes toxins A and B, which cause inflammation and tissue damage, and recent findings suggest that some of this tissue damage may be due to an inappropriate host immune response. We have found that toxins A and B, in combination with both bacterium- and host-derived danger signals, can induce expression of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-23. Our results demonstrate that IL-1β signaling enhances IL-23 production and could lead to increased pathogenic inflammation during CDI.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02386-14
PMCID: PMC4324312  PMID: 25626905
12.  A Hierarchical Cascade of Second Messengers Regulates Pseudomonas aeruginosa Surface Behaviors 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02456-14.
ABSTRACT 
Biofilms are surface-attached multicellular communities. Using single-cell tracking microscopy, we showed that a pilY1 mutant of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is defective in early biofilm formation. We leveraged the observation that PilY1 protein levels increase on a surface to perform a genetic screen to identify mutants altered in surface-grown expression of this protein. Based on our genetic studies, we found that soon after initiating surface growth, cyclic AMP (cAMP) levels increase, dependent on PilJ, a chemoreceptor-like protein of the Pil-Chp complex, and the type IV pilus (TFP). cAMP and its receptor protein Vfr, together with the FimS-AlgR two-component system (TCS), upregulate the expression of PilY1 upon surface growth. FimS and PilJ interact, suggesting a mechanism by which Pil-Chp can regulate FimS function. The subsequent secretion of PilY1 is dependent on the TFP assembly system; thus, PilY1 is not deployed until the pilus is assembled, allowing an ordered signaling cascade. Cell surface-associated PilY1 in turn signals through the TFP alignment complex PilMNOP and the diguanylate cyclase SadC to activate downstream cyclic di-GMP (c-di-GMP) production, thereby repressing swarming motility. Overall, our data support a model whereby P. aeruginosa senses the surface through the Pil-Chp chemotaxis-like complex, TFP, and PilY1 to regulate cAMP and c-di-GMP production, thereby employing a hierarchical regulatory cascade of second messengers to coordinate its program of surface behaviors.
IMPORTANCE
Biofilms are surface-attached multicellular communities. Here, we show that a stepwise regulatory circuit, involving ordered signaling via two different second messengers, is required for Pseudomonas aeruginosa to control early events in cell-surface interactions. We propose that our studies have uncovered a multilayered “surface-sensing” system that allows P. aeruginosa to effectively coordinate its surface-associated behaviors. Understanding how cells transition into the biofilm state on a surface may provide new approaches to prevent formation of these communities.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02456-14
PMCID: PMC4324313  PMID: 25626906
13.  Putative E3 Ubiquitin Ligase of Human Rotavirus Inhibits NF-κB Activation by Using Molecular Mimicry To Target β-TrCP 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02490-14.
ABSTRACT  
NF-κB plays a critical role in the induction and maintenance of innate and adaptive immune transcriptional programs. An associated inhibitor of κB protein (IκB) regulates NF-κB activation and contains a degron motif (DSGΦxS) that undergoes phosphorylation following pathogen recognition or other proinflammatory signals. The E3 ubiquitin ligase SCFβ-TrCP recognizes this phosphodegron through its β-transducin repeat-containing protein (β-TrCP) subunit and induces IκB degradation, allowing NF-κB to translocate to the nucleus and modulate gene expression. Rotavirus (RV), a major cause of pediatric gastroenteritis, can block NF-κB activation through the action of its nonstructural protein NSP1, a putative E3 ubiquitin ligase that mediates the degradation of β-TrCP or other immunomodulatory proteins in a virus strain-specific manner. Here, we show that NSP1 targets β-TrCP by mimicking the IκB phosphodegron. The NSP1 proteins of most human and porcine RV strains conserve a C-terminal phosphodegron-like (PDL) motif, DSGΦS. Deletion of this motif or mutation of its serine residues disrupts NSP1-mediated degradation of β-TrCP and inhibition of NF-κB activation. Additionally, a point mutation within the phosphodegron-binding pocket protects β-TrCP from NSP1-mediated turnover. Fusion of the PDL motif to an NSP1 protein known to target other immunomodulatory proteins generates a chimeric NSP1 protein that can induce β-TrCP degradation and block NF-κB activation. Other viral proteins (Epstein-Barr virus LMP1, HIV-1 Vpu, and vaccinia virus A49) also contain a PDL motif and interact with β-TrCP to inhibit NF-κB activation. Taken together, these data suggest that targeting β-TrCP by molecular mimicry may be a common strategy used by human viruses to evade the host immune response.
IMPORTANCE   The transcription factor NF-κB, a central regulator of the host response to infection, is a frequent target of viral antagonism. Pathogen detection activates NF-κB by inducing the phosphorylation of an associated inhibitor protein (IκB), which targets IκB for degradation by the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP. Rotavirus, a significant cause of childhood gastroenteritis, antagonizes NF-κB through the activity of its NSP1 protein, a putative E3 ubiquitin ligase that mediates β-TrCP turnover. Here, we show that NSP1 functions by mimicking the IκB phosphodegron recognized by β-TrCP. Nearly all human rotavirus strains conserve this motif at the NSP1 C terminus, and its removal disrupts NSP1 antagonist activity. This sequence conserves the biochemical properties of the IκB phosphodegron and can rescue antagonist activity when fused to an NSP1 protein otherwise inactive against β-TrCP. Other viral proteins also mimic IκB to disrupt NF-κB activation, indicating that this is an important immune evasion strategy.
IMPORTANCE  
The transcription factor NF-κB, a central regulator of the host response to infection, is a frequent target of viral antagonism. Pathogen detection activates NF-κB by inducing the phosphorylation of an associated inhibitor protein (IκB), which targets IκB for degradation by the E3 ubiquitin ligase β-TrCP. Rotavirus, a significant cause of childhood gastroenteritis, antagonizes NF-κB through the activity of its NSP1 protein, a putative E3 ubiquitin ligase that mediates β-TrCP turnover. Here, we show that NSP1 functions by mimicking the IκB phosphodegron recognized by β-TrCP. Nearly all human rotavirus strains conserve this motif at the NSP1 C terminus, and its removal disrupts NSP1 antagonist activity. This sequence conserves the biochemical properties of the IκB phosphodegron and can rescue antagonist activity when fused to an NSP1 protein otherwise inactive against β-TrCP. Other viral proteins also mimic IκB to disrupt NF-κB activation, indicating that this is an important immune evasion strategy.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02490-14
PMCID: PMC4324316  PMID: 25626907
16.  Studies on Influenza Virus Transmission between Ferrets: the Public Health Risks Revisited 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02560-14.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02560-14
PMCID: PMC4323420  PMID: 25616377
18.  Degradation Products of the Extracellular Pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae Access the Cytosol via Its Pore-Forming Toxin 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02110-14.
ABSTRACT 
Streptococcus pneumoniae is a leading pathogen with an extracellular lifestyle; however, it is detected by cytosolic surveillance systems of macrophages. The innate immune response that follows cytosolic sensing of cell wall components results in recruitment of additional macrophages, which subsequently clear colonizing organisms from host airways. In this study, we monitored cytosolic access by following the transit of the abundant bacterial surface component capsular polysaccharide, which is linked to the cell wall. Confocal and electron microscopy visually characterized the location of cell wall components in murine macrophages outside membrane-bound organelles. Quantification of capsular polysaccharide through cellular fractionation demonstrated that cytosolic access of bacterial cell wall components is dependent on phagocytosis, bacterial sensitivity to the host’s degradative enzyme lysozyme, and release of the pore-forming toxin pneumolysin. Activation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling is important for limiting access to the cytosol; however, ultimately, these are catastrophic events for both the bacteria and the macrophage, which undergoes cell death. Our results show how expression of a pore-forming toxin ensures the death of phagocytes that take up the organism, although cytosolic sensing results in innate immune detection that eventually allows for successful host defense. These findings provide an example of how cytosolic access applies to an extracellular microbe and contributes to its pathogenesis.
Importance  Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is a bacterial pathogen that is a leading cause of pneumonia. Pneumococcal disease is preceded by colonization of the nasopharynx, which lasts several weeks before being cleared by the host’s immune system. Although S. pneumoniae is an extracellular microbe, intracellular detection of pneumococcal components is critical for bacterial clearance. In this study, we show that following bacterial uptake and degradation by phagocytes, pneumococcal products access the host cell cytosol via its pore-forming toxin. This phenomenon of cytosolic access results in phagocyte death and may serve to combat the host cells responsible for clearing the organism. Our results provide an example of how intracellular access and subsequent immune detection occurs during infection with an extracellular pathogen.
Importance 
Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) is a bacterial pathogen that is a leading cause of pneumonia. Pneumococcal disease is preceded by colonization of the nasopharynx, which lasts several weeks before being cleared by the host’s immune system. Although S. pneumoniae is an extracellular microbe, intracellular detection of pneumococcal components is critical for bacterial clearance. In this study, we show that following bacterial uptake and degradation by phagocytes, pneumococcal products access the host cell cytosol via its pore-forming toxin. This phenomenon of cytosolic access results in phagocyte death and may serve to combat the host cells responsible for clearing the organism. Our results provide an example of how intracellular access and subsequent immune detection occurs during infection with an extracellular pathogen.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02110-14
PMCID: PMC4313911  PMID: 25604786
19.  Evaluation of the Potential Impact of Ebola Virus Genomic Drift on the Efficacy of Sequence-Based Candidate Therapeutics 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02227-14.
ABSTRACT 
Until recently, Ebola virus (EBOV) was a rarely encountered human pathogen that caused disease among small populations with extraordinarily high lethality. At the end of 2013, EBOV initiated an unprecedented disease outbreak in West Africa that is still ongoing and has already caused thousands of deaths. Recent studies revealed the genomic changes this particular EBOV variant undergoes over time during human-to-human transmission. Here we highlight the genomic changes that might negatively impact the efficacy of currently available EBOV sequence-based candidate therapeutics, such as small interfering RNAs (siRNAs), phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMOs), and antibodies. Ten of the observed mutations modify the sequence of the binding sites of monoclonal antibody (MAb) 13F6, MAb 1H3, MAb 6D8, MAb 13C6, and siRNA EK-1, VP24, and VP35 targets and might influence the binding efficacy of the sequence-based therapeutics, suggesting that their efficacy should be reevaluated against the currently circulating strain.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02227-14
PMCID: PMC4313914  PMID: 25604787
21.  Rapid and Sensitive RT-QuIC Detection of Human Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Using Cerebrospinal Fluid 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02451-14.
ABSTRACT 
Fast, definitive diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is important in assessing patient care options and transmission risks. Real-time quaking-induced conversion (RT-QuIC) assays of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and nasal-brushing specimens are valuable in distinguishing CJD from non-CJD conditions but have required 2.5 to 5 days. Here, an improved RT-QuIC assay is described which identified positive CSF samples within 4 to 14 h with better analytical sensitivity. Moreover, analysis of 11 CJD patients demonstrated that while 7 were RT-QuIC positive using the previous conditions, 10 were positive using the new assay. In these and further analyses, a total of 46 of 48 CSF samples from sporadic CJD patients were positive, while all 39 non-CJD patients were negative, giving 95.8% diagnostic sensitivity and 100% specificity. This second-generation RT-QuIC assay markedly improved the speed and sensitivity of detecting prion seeds in CSF specimens from CJD patients. This should enhance prospects for rapid and accurate ante mortem CJD diagnosis.
Importance  A long-standing problem in dealing with various neurodegenerative protein misfolding diseases is early and accurate diagnosis. This issue is particularly important with human prion diseases, such as CJD, because prions are deadly, transmissible, and unusually resistant to decontamination. The recently developed RT-QuIC test allows for highly sensitive and specific detection of CJD in human cerebrospinal fluid and is being broadly implemented as a key diagnostic tool. However, as currently applied, RT-QuIC takes 2.5 to 5 days and misses 11 to 23% of CJD cases. Now, we have markedly improved RT-QuIC analysis of human CSF such that CJD and non-CJD patients can be discriminated in a matter of hours rather than days with enhanced sensitivity. These improvements should allow for much faster, more accurate, and practical testing for CJD. In broader terms, our study provides a prototype for tests for misfolded protein aggregates that cause many important amyloid diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and tauopathies.
Importance 
A long-standing problem in dealing with various neurodegenerative protein misfolding diseases is early and accurate diagnosis. This issue is particularly important with human prion diseases, such as CJD, because prions are deadly, transmissible, and unusually resistant to decontamination. The recently developed RT-QuIC test allows for highly sensitive and specific detection of CJD in human cerebrospinal fluid and is being broadly implemented as a key diagnostic tool. However, as currently applied, RT-QuIC takes 2.5 to 5 days and misses 11 to 23% of CJD cases. Now, we have markedly improved RT-QuIC analysis of human CSF such that CJD and non-CJD patients can be discriminated in a matter of hours rather than days with enhanced sensitivity. These improvements should allow for much faster, more accurate, and practical testing for CJD. In broader terms, our study provides a prototype for tests for misfolded protein aggregates that cause many important amyloid diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and tauopathies.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02451-14
PMCID: PMC4313917  PMID: 25604790
22.  Application of a Neutral Community Model To Assess Structuring of the Human Lung Microbiome 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02284-14.
ABSTRACT 
DNA from phylogenetically diverse microbes is routinely recovered from healthy human lungs and used to define the lung microbiome. The proportion of this DNA originating from microbes adapted to the lungs, as opposed to microbes dispersing to the lungs from other body sites and the atmosphere, is not known. We use a neutral model of community ecology to distinguish members of the lung microbiome whose presence is consistent with dispersal from other body sites and those that deviate from the model, suggesting a competitive advantage to these microbes in the lungs. We find that the composition of the healthy lung microbiome is consistent with predictions of the neutral model, reflecting the overriding role of dispersal of microbes from the oral cavity in shaping the microbial community in healthy lungs. In contrast, the microbiome of diseased lungs was readily distinguished as being under active selection. We also assessed the viability of microbes from lung samples by cultivation with a variety of media and incubation conditions. Bacteria recovered by cultivation from healthy lungs represented species that comprised 61% of the 16S rRNA-encoding gene sequences derived from bronchoalveolar lavage samples.
Importance  Neutral distribution of microbes is a distinguishing feature of the microbiome in healthy lungs, wherein constant dispersal of bacteria from the oral cavity overrides differential growth of bacteria. No bacterial species consistently deviated from the model predictions in healthy lungs, although representatives of many of the dispersed species were readily cultivated. In contrast, bacterial populations in diseased lungs were identified as being under active selection. Quantification of the relative importance of selection and neutral processes such as dispersal in shaping the healthy lung microbiome is a first step toward understanding its impacts on host health.
Importance 
Neutral distribution of microbes is a distinguishing feature of the microbiome in healthy lungs, wherein constant dispersal of bacteria from the oral cavity overrides differential growth of bacteria. No bacterial species consistently deviated from the model predictions in healthy lungs, although representatives of many of the dispersed species were readily cultivated. In contrast, bacterial populations in diseased lungs were identified as being under active selection. Quantification of the relative importance of selection and neutral processes such as dispersal in shaping the healthy lung microbiome is a first step toward understanding its impacts on host health.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02284-14
PMCID: PMC4324308  PMID: 25604788
23.  RovS and Its Associated Signaling Peptide Form a Cell-To-Cell Communication System Required for Streptococcus agalactiae Pathogenesis 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02306-14.
ABSTRACT 
Bacteria can communicate with each other to coordinate their biological functions at the population level. In a previous study, we described a cell-to-cell communication system in streptococci that involves a transcriptional regulator belonging to the Rgg family and short hydrophobic peptides (SHPs) that act as signaling molecules. Streptococcus agalactiae, an opportunistic pathogenic bacterium responsible for fatal infections in neonates and immunocompromised adults, has one copy of the shp/rgg locus. The SHP-associated Rgg is called RovS in S. agalactiae. In this study, we found that the SHP/RovS cell-to-cell communication system is active in the strain NEM316 of S. agalactiae, and we identified different partners that are involved in this system, such as the Eep peptidase, the PptAB, and the OppA1-F oligopeptide transporters. We also identified a new target gene controlled by this system and reexamined the regulation of a previously proposed target gene, fbsA, in the context of the SHP-associated RovS system. Furthermore, our results are the first to indicate the SHP/RovS system specificity to host liver and spleen using a murine model, which demonstrates its implication in streptococci virulence. Finally, we observed that SHP/RovS regulation influences S. agalactiae’s ability to adhere to and invade HepG2 hepatic cells. Hence, the SHP/RovS cell-to-cell communication system appears to be an essential mechanism that regulates pathogenicity in S. agalactiae and represents an attractive target for the development of new therapeutic strategies.
Importance  Rgg regulators and their cognate pheromones, called small hydrophobic peptides (SHPs), are present in nearly all streptococcal species. The general pathways of the cell-to-cell communication system in which Rgg and SHP take part are well understood. However, many other players remain unidentified, and the direct targets of the system, as well as its link to virulence, remain unclear. Here, we identified the different players involved in the SHP/Rgg system in S. agalactiae, which is the leading agent of severe infections in human newborns. We have identified a direct target of the Rgg regulator in S. agalactiae (called RovS) and examined a previously proposed target, all in the context of associated SHP. For the first time, we have also demonstrated the implication of the SHP/RovS mechanism in virulence, as well as its host organ specificity. Thus, this cell-to-cell communication system may represent a future target for S. agalactiae disease treatment.
Importance 
Rgg regulators and their cognate pheromones, called small hydrophobic peptides (SHPs), are present in nearly all streptococcal species. The general pathways of the cell-to-cell communication system in which Rgg and SHP take part are well understood. However, many other players remain unidentified, and the direct targets of the system, as well as its link to virulence, remain unclear. Here, we identified the different players involved in the SHP/Rgg system in S. agalactiae, which is the leading agent of severe infections in human newborns. We have identified a direct target of the Rgg regulator in S. agalactiae (called RovS) and examined a previously proposed target, all in the context of associated SHP. For the first time, we have also demonstrated the implication of the SHP/RovS mechanism in virulence, as well as its host organ specificity. Thus, this cell-to-cell communication system may represent a future target for S. agalactiae disease treatment.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02306-14
PMCID: PMC4324310  PMID: 25604789
24.  Malaria Induces Anemia through CD8+ T Cell-Dependent Parasite Clearance and Erythrocyte Removal in the Spleen 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02493-14.
ABSTRACT 
Severe malarial anemia (SMA) in semi-immune individuals eliminates both infected and uninfected erythrocytes and is a frequent fatal complication. It is proportional not to circulating parasitemia but total parasite mass (sequestered) in the organs. Thus, immune responses that clear parasites in organs may trigger changes leading to anemia. Here, we use an outbred-rat model where increasing parasite removal in the spleen escalated uninfected-erythrocyte removal. Splenic parasite clearance was associated with activated CD8+ T cells, immunodepletion of which prevented parasite clearance. CD8+ T cell repletion and concomitant reduction of the parasite load was associated with exacerbated (40 to 60%) hemoglobin loss and changes in properties of uninfected erythrocytes. Together, these data suggest that CD8+ T cell-dependent parasite clearance causes erythrocyte removal in the spleen and thus anemia. In children infected with the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, elevation of parasite biomass (not the number of circulating parasites) increased the odds ratio for SMA by 3.5-fold (95% confidence intervals [CI95%], 1.8- to 7.5-fold). CD8+ T cell expansion/activation independently increased the odds ratio by 2.4-fold (CI95%, 1.0- to 5.7-fold). Concomitant increases in both conferred a 7-fold (CI95%, 1.9- to 27.4-fold)-greater risk for SMA. Together, these data suggest that CD8+-dependent parasite clearance may predispose individuals to uninfected-erythrocyte loss and SMA, thus informing severe disease diagnosis and strategies for vaccine development.
Importance  Malaria is a major global health problem. Severe malaria anemia (SMA) is a complex disease associated with partial immunity. Rapid hemoglobin reductions of 20 to 50% are commonly observed and must be rescued by transfusion (which can carry a risk of HIV acquisition). The causes and risk factors of SMA remain poorly understood. Recent studies suggest that SMA is linked to parasite biomass sequestered in organs. This led us to investigate whether immune mechanisms that clear parasites in organs trigger anemia. In rats, erythropoiesis is largely restricted to the bone marrow, and critical aspects of the spleen expected to be important in anemia are similar to those in humans. Therefore, using a rat model, we show that severe anemia is caused through CD8+ T cell-dependent parasite clearance and erythrocyte removal in the spleen. CD8 activation may also be a new risk factor for SMA in African children.
Importance 
Malaria is a major global health problem. Severe malaria anemia (SMA) is a complex disease associated with partial immunity. Rapid hemoglobin reductions of 20 to 50% are commonly observed and must be rescued by transfusion (which can carry a risk of HIV acquisition). The causes and risk factors of SMA remain poorly understood. Recent studies suggest that SMA is linked to parasite biomass sequestered in organs. This led us to investigate whether immune mechanisms that clear parasites in organs trigger anemia. In rats, erythropoiesis is largely restricted to the bone marrow, and critical aspects of the spleen expected to be important in anemia are similar to those in humans. Therefore, using a rat model, we show that severe anemia is caused through CD8+ T cell-dependent parasite clearance and erythrocyte removal in the spleen. CD8 activation may also be a new risk factor for SMA in African children.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02493-14
PMCID: PMC4324318  PMID: 25604792
25.  Inactivation of a Foodborne Norovirus Outbreak Strain with Nonthermal Atmospheric Pressure Plasma 
mBio  2015;6(1):e02300-14.
ABSTRACT 
Human norovirus (NoV) is the most frequent cause of epidemic nonbacterial acute gastroenteritis worldwide. We investigated the impact of nonthermal or cold atmospheric pressure plasma (CAPP) on the inactivation of a clinical human outbreak NoV, GII.4. Three different dilutions of a NoV-positive stool sample were prepared and subsequently treated with CAPP for various lengths of time, up to 15 min. NoV viral loads were quantified by quantitative real-time reverse transcription PCR (RT-qPCR). Increased CAPP treatment time led to increased NoV reduction; samples treated for the longest time had the lowest viral load. From the initial starting quantity of 2.36 × 104 genomic equivalents/ml, sample exposure to CAPP reduced this value by 1.23 log10 and 1.69 log10 genomic equivalents/ml after 10 and 15 min, respectively (P < 0.01). CAPP treatment of surfaces carrying a lower viral load reduced NoV by at least 1 log10 after CAPP exposure for 2 min (P < 0.05) and 1 min (P < 0.05), respectively. Our results suggest that NoV can be inactivated by CAPP treatment. The lack of cell culture assays prevents our ability to estimate infectivity. It is possible that some detectable, intact virus particles were rendered noninfectious. We conclude that CAPP treatment of surfaces may be a useful strategy to reduce the risk of NoV transmission in crowded environments.
Importance  Human gastroenteritis is most frequently caused by noroviruses, which are spread person to person and via surfaces, often in facilities with crowds of people. Disinfection of surfaces that come into contact with infected humans is critical for the prevention of cross-contamination and further transmission of the virus. However, effective disinfection cannot be done easily in mass catering environments or health care facilities. We evaluated the efficacy of cold atmospheric pressure plasma, an innovative airborne disinfection method, on surfaces inoculated with norovirus. We used a clinically relevant strain of norovirus from an outbreak in Germany. Cold plasma was able to inactivate the virus on the tested surfaces, suggesting that this method could be used for continuous disinfection of contaminated surfaces. The use of a clinical strain of norovirus strengthens the reliability of our results as it is a strain relevant to outbreaks in humans.
Importance 
Human gastroenteritis is most frequently caused by noroviruses, which are spread person to person and via surfaces, often in facilities with crowds of people. Disinfection of surfaces that come into contact with infected humans is critical for the prevention of cross-contamination and further transmission of the virus. However, effective disinfection cannot be done easily in mass catering environments or health care facilities. We evaluated the efficacy of cold atmospheric pressure plasma, an innovative airborne disinfection method, on surfaces inoculated with norovirus. We used a clinically relevant strain of norovirus from an outbreak in Germany. Cold plasma was able to inactivate the virus on the tested surfaces, suggesting that this method could be used for continuous disinfection of contaminated surfaces. The use of a clinical strain of norovirus strengthens the reliability of our results as it is a strain relevant to outbreaks in humans.
doi:10.1128/mBio.02300-14
PMCID: PMC4311907  PMID: 25587014

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