The majority of human Yersinia pestis infections result from introduction of bacteria into the skin by the bite of an infected flea. Once in the dermis, Y. pestis can evade the host’s innate immune response and subsequently disseminate to the draining lymph node (dLN). There, the pathogen replicates to large numbers, causing the pathognomonic bubo of bubonic plague. In this study, several cytometric and microscopic techniques were used to characterize the early host response to intradermal (i.d.) Y. pestis infection. Mice were infected i.d. with fully virulent or attenuated strains of dsRed-expressing Y. pestis, and tissues were analyzed by flow cytometry. By 4 h postinfection, there were large numbers of neutrophils in the infected dermis and the majority of cell-associated bacteria were associated with neutrophils. We observed a significant effect of the virulence plasmid (pCD1) on bacterial survival and neutrophil activation in the dermis. Intravital microscopy of i.d. Y. pestis infection revealed dynamic interactions between recruited neutrophils and bacteria. In contrast, very few bacteria interacted with dendritic cells (DCs), indicating that this cell type may not play a major role early in Y. pestis infection. Experiments using neutrophil depletion and a CCR7 knockout mouse suggest that dissemination of Y. pestis from the dermis to the dLN is not dependent on neutrophils or DCs. Taken together, the results of this study show a very rapid, robust neutrophil response to Y. pestis in the dermis and that the virulence plasmid pCD1 is important for the evasion of this response.
Yersinia pestis remains a public health concern today because of sporadic plague outbreaks that occur throughout the world and the potential for its illegitimate use as a bioterrorism weapon. Since bubonic plague pathogenesis is initiated by the introduction of Y. pestis into the skin, we sought to characterize the response of the host’s innate immune cells to bacteria early after intradermal infection. We found that neutrophils, innate immune cells that engulf and destroy microbes, are rapidly recruited to the injection site, irrespective of strain virulence, indicating that Y. pestis is unable to subvert neutrophil recruitment to the site of infection. However, we saw a decreased activation of neutrophils that were associated with Y. pestis strains harboring the pCD1 plasmid, which is essential for virulence. These findings indicate a role for pCD1-encoded factors in suppressing the activation/stimulation of these cells in vivo.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, is unique among the enteric group of Gram-negative bacteria in relying on a blood-feeding insect for transmission. The Yersinia-flea interactions that enable plague transmission cycles have had profound historical consequences as manifested by human plague pandemics. The arthropod-borne transmission route was a radical ecologic change from the food- and water-borne transmission route of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, from which Y. pestis diverged only within the last 20,000 years. Thus, the interactions of Y. pestis with its flea vector that lead to colonization and successful transmission are the result of a recent evolutionary adaptation that required relatively few genetic changes. These changes from the Y. pseudotuberculosis progenitor included loss of insecticidal activity, increased resistance to antibacterial factors in the flea midgut, and extending Yersinia biofilm-forming ability to the flea host environment.
A hallmark of Yersinia pestis infection is a delayed inflammatory response early in infection. In this study, we use an intradermal model of infection to study early innate immune cell recruitment. Mice were injected intradermally in the ear with wild-type (WT) or attenuated Y. pestis lacking the pYV virulence plasmid (pYV−). The inflammatory responses in ear and draining lymph node samples were evaluated by flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry. As measured by flow cytometry, total neutrophil and macrophage recruitment to the ear in WT-infected mice did not differ from phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) controls or mice infected with pYV−, except for a transient increase in macrophages at 6 h compared to the PBS control. Limited inflammation was apparent even in animals with high bacterial loads (105 to 106 CFU). In addition, activation of inflammatory cells was significantly reduced in WT-infected mice as measured by CD11b and major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II) expression. When mice infected with WT were injected 12 h later at the same intradermal site with purified LPS, Y. pestis did not prevent recruitment of neutrophils. However, significant reduction in neutrophil activation remained compared to that of PBS and pYV− controls. Immunohistochemistry revealed qualitative differences in neutrophil recruitment to the skin and draining lymph node, with WT-infected mice producing a diffuse inflammatory response. In contrast, focal sites of neutrophil recruitment were sustained through 48 h postinfection in pYV−-infected mice. Thus, an important feature of Y. pestis infection is reduced activation and organization of inflammatory cells that is at least partially dependent on the pYV virulence plasmid.
A comprehensive TnphoA mutant library was constructed in Yersinia pestis KIM6 to identify surface proteins involved in Y. pestis host cell invasion and bacterial virulence. Insertion site analysis of the library repeatedly identified a 9,042-bp chromosomal gene (YPO3944), intimin/invasin-like protein (Ilp), similar to the Gram-negative intimin/invasin family of surface proteins. Deletion mutants of ilp were generated in Y. pestis strains KIM5(pCD1+) Pgm− (pigmentation negative)/, KIM6(pCD1−) Pgm+, and CO92. Comparative analyses were done with the deletions and the parental wild type for bacterial adhesion to and internalization by HEp-2 cells in vitro, infectivity and maintenance in the flea vector, and lethality in murine models of systemic and pneumonic plague. Deletion of ilp had no effect on bacterial blockage of flea blood feeding or colonization. The Y. pestis KIM5 Δilp strain had reduced adhesion to and internalization by HEp-2 cells compared to the parental wild-type strain (P < 0.05). Following intravenous challenge with Y. pestis KIM5 Δilp, mice had a delayed time to death and reduced dissemination to the lungs, livers, and kidneys as monitored by in vivo imaging using a lux reporter system (in vivo imaging system [IVIS]) and bacterial counts. Intranasal challenge in mice with Y. pestis CO92 Δilp had a 55-fold increase in the 50% lethal dose ([LD50] 1.64 × 104 CFU) compared to the parental wild-type strain LD50 (2.98 × 102 CFU). These findings identified Ilp as a novel virulence factor of Y. pestis.
pesticin; FyuA; plague; phage
Toxin complex (Tc) family proteins were first identified as insecticidal toxins in Photorhabdus luminescens and have since been found in a wide range of bacteria. The genome of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of bubonic plague, contains a locus that encodes the Tc protein homologues YitA, YitB, YitC, and YipA and YipB. Previous microarray data indicate that the Tc genes are highly upregulated by Y. pestis while in the flea vector; however, their role in the infection of fleas and pathogenesis in the mammalian host is unclear.
We show that the Tc proteins YitA and YipA are highly produced by Y. pestis while in the flea but not during growth in brain heart infusion (BHI) broth at the same temperature. Over-production of the LysR-type regulator YitR from an exogenous plasmid increased YitA and YipA synthesis in broth culture. The increase in production of YitA and YipA correlated with the yitR copy number and was temperature-dependent. Although highly synthesized in fleas, deletion of the Tc proteins did not alter survival of Y. pestis in the flea or prevent blockage of the proventriculus. Furthermore, YipA was found to undergo post-translational processing and YipA and YitA are localized to the outer membrane of Y. pestis. YitA was also detected by immunofluorescence microscopy on the surface of Y. pestis. Both YitA and YipA are produced maximally at low temperature but persist for several hours after transfer to 37°C.
Y. pestis Tc proteins are highly expressed in the flea but are not essential for Y. pestis to stably infect or produce a transmissible infection in the flea. However, YitA and YipA localize to the outer membrane and YitA is exposed on the surface, indicating that at least YitA is present on the surface when Y. pestis is transmitted into the mammalian host from the flea.
Yersinia pestis; Toxin complex proteins; YitA; YipA; YitR; Xenopsylla cheopis
Ail is an outer membrane protein from Yersinia pestis that is highly expressed in a rodent model of bubonic plague, making it a good candidate for vaccine development. Ail is important for attaching to host cells and evading host immune responses, facilitating rapid progression of a plague infection. Binding to host cells is important for injection of cytotoxic Yersinia outer proteins. To learn more about how Ail mediates adhesion, we solved two high-resolution crystal structures of Ail, with no ligand bound and in complex with a heparin analog called sucrose octasulfate. We identified multiple adhesion targets, including laminin and heparin, and showed that a 40 kDa domain of laminin called LG4-5 specifically binds to Ail. We also evaluated the contribution of laminin to delivery of Yops to HEp-2 cells. This work constitutes a structural description of how a bacterial outer membrane protein uses a multivalent approach to bind host cells.
ail; plague; Yersinia pestis; adhesion; invasion; extracellular matrix proteins; outer membrane protein; crystal structure
Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague, forms biofilms in fleas, its insect vectors, as a means to enhance transmission. Biofilm development is positively regulated by hmsT, encoding a diguanylate cyclase that synthesizes the bacterial second messenger cyclic-di-GMP. Biofilm development is negatively regulated by the Rcs phosphorelay signal transduction system. In this study, we show that Rcs-negative regulation is accomplished by repressing transcription of hmsT.
The ability of Yersinia pestis to forestall the mammalian innate immune response is a fundamental aspect of plague pathogenesis. In this study, we examined the effect of Ail, a 17-kDa outer membrane protein that protects Y. pestis against complement-mediated lysis, on bubonic plague pathogenesis in mice and rats. The Y. pestis ail mutant was attenuated for virulence in both rodent models. The attenuation was greater in rats than in mice, which correlates with the ability of normal rat serum, but not mouse serum, to kill ail-negative Y. pestis in vitro. Intradermal infection with the ail mutant resulted in an atypical, subacute form of bubonic plague associated with extensive recruitment of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN or neutrophils) to the site of infection in the draining lymph node and the formation of large purulent abscesses that contained the bacteria. Systemic spread and mortality were greatly attenuated, however, and a productive adaptive immune response was generated after high-dose challenge, as evidenced by high serum antibody levels against Y. pestis F1 antigen. The Y. pestis Ail protein is an important bubonic plague virulence factor that inhibits the innate immune response, in particular the recruitment of a protective PMN response to the infected lymph node.
A delayed inflammatory response is a prominent feature of infection with Yersinia pestis, the agent of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Using a rat model of bubonic plague, we examined lymph node histopathology, transcriptome, and extracellular cytokine levels to broadly characterize the kinetics and extent of the host response to Y. pestis and how it is influenced by the Yersinia virulence plasmid (pYV). Remarkably, dissemination and multiplication of wild-type Y. pestis during the bubonic stage of disease did not induce any detectable gene expression or cytokine response by host lymph node cells in the developing bubo. Only after systemic spread had led to terminal septicemic plague was a transcriptomic response detected, which included upregulation of several cytokine, chemokine, and other immune response genes. Although an initial intracellular phase of Y. pestis infection has been postulated, a Th1-type cytokine response associated with classical activation of macrophages was not observed during the bubonic stage of disease. However, elevated levels of interleukin-17 (IL-17) were present in infected lymph nodes. In the absence of pYV, sustained recruitment to the lymph node of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN, or neutrophils), the major IL-17 effector cells, correlated with clearance of infection. Thus, the ability to counteract a PMN response in the lymph node appears to be a major in vivo function of the Y. pestis virulence plasmid.
Yersinia pestis forms a biofilm in the foregut of its flea vector that promotes transmission by flea bite. As in many bacteria, biofilm formation in Y. pestis is controlled by intracellular levels of the bacterial second messenger c-di-GMP. Two Y. pestis diguanylate cyclase (DGC) enzymes, encoded by hmsT and y3730, and one phosphodiesterase (PDE), encoded by hmsP, have been shown to control biofilm production in vitro via their opposing c-di-GMP synthesis and degradation activities, respectively. In this study, we provide further evidence that hmsT, hmsP, and y3730 are the only three genes involved in c-di-GMP metabolism in Y. pestis and evaluated the two DGCs for their comparative roles in biofilm formation in vitro and in the flea vector. As with HmsT, the DGC activity of Y3730 depended on a catalytic GGDEF domain, but the relative contribution of the two enzymes to the biofilm phenotype was influenced strongly by the environmental niche. Deletion of y3730 had a very minor effect on in vitro biofilm formation, but resulted in greatly reduced biofilm formation in the flea. In contrast, the predominant effect of hmsT was on in vitro biofilm formation. DGC activity was also required for the Hms-independent autoaggregation phenotype of Y. pestis, but was not required for virulence in a mouse model of bubonic plague. Our results confirm that only one PDE (HmsP) and two DGCs (HmsT and Y3730) control c-di-GMP levels in Y. pestis, indicate that hmsT and y3730 are regulated post-transcriptionally to differentially control biofilm formation in vitro and in the flea vector, and identify a second c-di-GMP-regulated phenotype in Y. pestis.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, has recently diverged from the less virulent enteropathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. Its emergence has been characterized by massive genetic loss and inactivation and limited gene acquisition. The acquired genes include two plasmids, a filamentous phage, and a few chromosomal loci. The aim of this study was to characterize the chromosomal regions acquired by Y. pestis. Following in silico comparative analysis and PCR screening of 98 strains of Y. pseudotuberculosis and Y. pestis, we found that eight chromosomal loci (six regions [R1pe to R6pe] and two coding sequences [CDS1pe and CDS2pe]) specified Y. pestis. Signatures of integration by site specific or homologous recombination were identified for most of them. These acquisitions and the loss of ancestral DNA sequences were concentrated in a chromosomal region opposite to the origin of replication. The specific regions were acquired very early during Y. pestis evolution and were retained during its microevolution, suggesting that they might bring some selective advantages. Only one region (R3pe), predicted to carry a lambdoid prophage, is most likely no longer functional because of mutations. With the exception of R1pe and R2pe, which have the potential to encode a restriction/modification and a sugar transport system, respectively, no functions could be predicted for the other Y. pestis-specific loci. To determine the role of the eight chromosomal loci in the physiology and pathogenicity of the plague bacillus, each of them was individually deleted from the bacterial chromosome. None of the deletants exhibited defects during growth in vitro. Using the Xenopsylla cheopis flea model, all deletants retained the capacity to produce a stable and persistent infection and to block fleas. Similarly, none of the deletants caused any acute flea toxicity. In the mouse model of infection, all deletants were fully virulent upon subcutaneous or aerosol infections. Therefore, our results suggest that acquisition of new chromosomal materials has not been of major importance in the dramatic change of life cycle that has accompanied the emergence of Y. pestis.
Plague is a flea-borne zoonosis caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Y. pestis mutants lacking the yersiniabactin (Ybt) siderophore-based iron transport system are avirulent when inoculated intradermally but fully virulent when inoculated intravenously in mice. Presumably, Ybt is required to provide sufficient iron at the peripheral injection site, suggesting that Ybt would be an essential virulence factor for flea-borne plague. Here, using a flea-to-mouse transmission model, we show that a Y. pestis strain lacking the Ybt system causes fatal plague at low incidence when transmitted by fleas. Bacteriology and histology analyses revealed that a Ybt-negative strain caused only primary septicemic plague and atypical bubonic plague instead of the typical bubonic form of disease. The results provide new evidence that primary septicemic plague is a distinct clinical entity and suggest that unusual forms of plague may be caused by atypical Y. pestis strains.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, autoaggregates within a few minutes of cessation of shaking when grown at 28°C. To identify the autoaggregation factor of Y. pestis, we performed mariner-based transposon mutagenesis. Autoaggregation-defective mutants from three different pools were identified, each with a transposon insertion at a different position within the gene encoding phosphoglucomutase (pgmA; y1258). Targeted deletion of pgmA in Y. pestis KIM5 also resulted in loss of autoaggregation. Given the previously defined role for phosphoglucomutase in antimicrobial peptide resistance in other organisms, we tested the KIM5 ΔpgmA mutant for antimicrobial peptide sensitivity. The ΔpgmA mutant displayed >1,000-fold increased sensitivity to polymyxin B compared to the parental Y. pestis strain, KIM5. This sensitivity is not due to changes in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) since the LPSs from both Y. pestis KIM5 and the ΔpgmA mutant are identical based on a comparison of their structures by mass spectrometry (MS), tandem MS, and nuclear magnetic resonance analyses. Furthermore, the ability of polymyxin B to neutralize LPS toxicity was identical for LPS purified from both KIM5 and the ΔpgmA mutant. Our results indicate that increased polymyxin B sensitivity of the ΔpgmA mutant is due to changes in surface structures other than LPS. Experiments with mice via the intravenous and intranasal routes did not demonstrate any virulence defect for the ΔpgmA mutant, nor was flea colonization or blockage affected. Our findings suggest that the activity of PgmA results in modification and/or elaboration of a surface component of Y. pestis responsible for autoaggregation and polymyxin B resistance.
Protection against virulent pathogens that cause acute, fatal disease is often hampered by development of microbial resistance to traditional chemotherapeutics. Further, most successful pathogens possess an array of immune evasion strategies to avoid detection and elimination by the host. Development of novel, immunomodulatory prophylaxes that target the host immune system, rather than the invading microbe, could serve as effective alternatives to traditional chemotherapies. Here we describe the development and mechanism of a novel pan-anti-bacterial prophylaxis. Using cationic liposome non-coding DNA complexes (CLDC) mixed with crude F. tularensis membrane protein fractions (MPF), we demonstrate control of virulent F. tularensis infection in vitro and in vivo. CLDC+MPF inhibited bacterial replication in primary human and murine macrophages in vitro. Control of infection in macrophages was mediated by both reactive nitrogen species (RNS) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in mouse cells, and ROS in human cells. Importantly, mice treated with CLDC+MPF 3 days prior to challenge survived lethal intranasal infection with virulent F. tularensis. Similarly to in vitro observations, in vivo protection was dependent on the presence of RNS and ROS. Lastly, CLDC+MPF was also effective at controlling infections with Yersinia pestis, Burkholderia pseudomallei and Brucella abortus. Thus, CLDC+MPF represents a novel prophylaxis to protect against multiple, highly virulent pathogens.
Conventional treatment of bacterial infections typically includes administration of antibiotics. However, many pathogens have developed spontaneous resistance to commonly used antibiotics. Development of new compounds that stimulate the host immune system to directly kill bacteria by mechanisms different from those utilized by antibiotics may serve as effective alternatives to antibiotic therapy. In this report, we describe a novel compound capable of controlling infections mediated by different, unrelated bacteria via the induction of host derived reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogen species. This compound is comprised of cationic liposome DNA complexes (CLDC) and crude membrane preparations (MPF) obtained from attenuated Francisella tularensis Live Vaccine Strain (LVS). Pretreatment of primary mouse or human cells limited replication of virulent F. tularensis, Burkholderia pseudomallei, Yersinia pestis and Brucella abortus in vitro. CLDC+MPF was also effective for controlling lethal pulmonary infections with virulent F. tularensis. Thus, CLDC+MPF represents a novel antimicrobial for treatment of lethal, acute, bacterial infections.
Yersinia pestis, the agent of plague, is transmitted to mammals by infected fleas. Y. pestis exhibits a distinct life stage in the flea, where it grows in the form of a cohesive biofilm that promotes transmission. After transmission, the temperature shift to 37°C induces many known virulence factors of Y. pestis that confer resistance to innate immunity. These factors are not produced in the low-temperature environment of the flea, however, suggesting that Y. pestis is vulnerable to the initial encounter with innate immune cells at the flea bite site. In this study, we used whole-genome microarrays to compare the Y. pestis in vivo transcriptome in infective fleas to in vitro transcriptomes in temperature-matched biofilm and planktonic cultures, and to the previously characterized in vivo gene expression profile in the rat bubo. In addition to genes involved in metabolic adaptation to the flea gut and biofilm formation, several genes with known or predicted roles in resistance to innate immunity and pathogenicity in the mammal were upregulated in the flea. Y. pestis from infected fleas were more resistant to phagocytosis by macrophages than in vitro-grown bacteria, in part attributable to a cluster of insecticidal-like toxin genes that were highly expressed only in the flea. Our results suggest that transit through the flea vector induces a phenotype that enhances survival and dissemination of Y. pestis after transmission to the mammalian host.
Bubonic plague cycles depend on the ability of Yersinia pestis to alternately infect two very different hosts—a mammal and a flea. Like any arthropod-borne pathogen, Y. pestis must sense host-specific environmental cues and regulate gene expression accordingly to produce a transmissible infection in the flea after being taken up in a blood meal, and again when it exits the flea and enters the mammal. We examined the Y. pestis phenotype at the point of transmission by in vivo gene expression analyses, the first description of the transcriptome of an arthropod-borne bacterium in its vector. In addition to genes associated with physiological adaptation to the flea gut, several Y. pestis virulence factors required for resistance to innate immunity and dissemination in the mammal were induced in the flea, suggesting that the arthropod life stage primes Y. pestis for successful infection of the mammal.
Plague is a zoonosis transmitted by fleas and caused by the gram-negative bacterium Yersinia pestis. During infection, the plasmidic caf1M1A1 operon that encodes the Y. pestis F1 protein capsule is highly expressed, and anti-F1 antibodies are protective. Surprisingly, the capsule is not required for virulence after injection of cultured bacteria, even though it is an antiphagocytic factor and capsule-deficient Y. pestis strains are rarely isolated. We found that a caf-negative Y. pestis mutant was not impaired in either flea colonization or virulence in mice after intradermal inoculation of cultured bacteria. In contrast, absence of the caf operon decreased bubonic plague incidence after a flea bite. Successful development of plague in mice infected by flea bite with the caf-negative mutant required a higher number of infective bites per challenge. In addition, the mutant displayed a highly autoaggregative phenotype in infected liver and spleen. The results suggest that acquisition of the caf locus via horizontal transfer by an ancestral Y. pestis strain increased transmissibility and the potential for epidemic spread. In addition, our data support a model in which atypical caf-negative strains could emerge during climatic conditions that favor a high flea burden. Human infection with such strains would not be diagnosed by the standard clinical tests that detect F1 antibody or antigen, suggesting that more comprehensive surveillance for atypical Y. pestis strains in plague foci may be necessary. The results also highlight the importance of studying Y. pestis pathogenesis in the natural context of arthropod-borne transmission.
Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent of plague, forms a biofilm in the foregut of its flea vector to produce a transmissible infection. The closely related Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, from which Y. pestis recently evolved, can colonize the flea midgut but does not form a biofilm in the foregut. Y. pestis biofilm in the flea and in vitro is dependent on an extracellular matrix synthesized by products of the hms genes; identical genes are present in Y. pseudotuberculosis. The Yersinia Hms proteins contain functional domains present in Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus proteins known to synthesize a poly-β-1,6-N-acetyl-d-glucosamine biofilm matrix. In this study, we show that the extracellular matrices (ECM) of Y. pestis and staphylococcal biofilms are antigenically related, indicating a similar biochemical structure. We also characterized a glycosyl hydrolase (NghA) of Y. pseudotuberculosis that cleaved β-linked N-acetylglucosamine residues and reduced biofilm formation by staphylococci and Y. pestis in vitro. The Y. pestis nghA ortholog is a pseudogene, and overexpression of functional nghA reduced ECM surface accumulation and inhibited the ability of Y. pestis to produce biofilm in the flea foregut. Mutational loss of this glycosidase activity in Y. pestis may have contributed to the recent evolution of flea-borne transmission.
Yersinia pestis is the etiologic agent of bubonic and pneumonic plagues. It is speculated that Y. pestis hijacks antigen-presenting cells (APCs), such as dendritic cells (DCs) and alveolar macrophages, in order to be delivered to lymph nodes. However, how APCs initially capture the bacterium remains uncharacterized. It is well known that HIV-1 uses human DC-specific intercellular adhesion molecule-grabbing nonintegrin (DC-SIGN) (CD209) receptor, expressed by APCs, to be captured and delivered to target cell, such as CD4+ lymphocytes. Several gram-negative bacteria utilize their core lipopolysaccharides (LPS) as ligands to interact with the human DC-SIGN. Therefore, it is possible that Y. pestis, whose core LPS is naturally exposed, might exploit DC-SIGN to invade APCs. We demonstrate in this study that Y. pestis directly interacts with DC-SIGN and invades both DCs and alveolar macrophages. In contrast, when engineered to cover the core LPS, Y. pestis loses its ability to invade DCs, alveolar macrophages, and DC-SIGN-expressing transfectants. The interaction between Y. pestis and human DCs can be reduced by a combination treatment with anti-CD209 and anti-CD207 antibodies. This study shows that human DC-SIGN is a receptor for Y. pestis that promotes phagocytosis by DCs in vitro.
Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, must survive in blood in order to cause disease and to be transmitted from host to host by fleas. Members of the Ail/Lom family of outer membrane proteins provide protection from complement-dependent killing for a number of pathogenic bacteria. The Y. pestis KIM genome is predicted to encode four Ail/Lom family proteins. Y. pestis mutants specifically deficient in expression of each of these proteins were constructed using lambda Red-mediated recombination. The Ail outer membrane protein was essential for Y. pestis to resist complement-mediated killing at 26 and 37°C. Ail was expressed at high levels at both 26 and 37°C, but not at 6°C. Expression of Ail in Escherichia coli provided protection from the bactericidal activity of complement. High-level expression of the three other Y. pestis Ail/Lom family proteins (the y1682, y2034, and y2446 proteins) provided no protection against complement-mediated bacterial killing. A Y. pestis ail deletion mutant was rapidly killed by sera obtained from all mammals tested except mouse serum. The role of Ail in infection of mice, Caenorhabditis elegans, and fleas was investigated.
The salivary glands of hematophagous animals contain a complex cocktail that interferes with the host hemostasis and inflammation pathways, thus increasing feeding success. Fleas represent a relatively recent group of insects that evolved hematophagy independently of other insect orders.
Analysis of the salivary transcriptome of the flea Xenopsylla cheopis, the vector of human plague, indicates that gene duplication events have led to a large expansion of a family of acidic phosphatases that are probably inactive, and to the expansion of the FS family of peptides that are unique to fleas. Several other unique polypeptides were also uncovered. Additionally, an apyrase-coding transcript of the CD39 family appears as the candidate for the salivary nucleotide hydrolysing activity in X.cheopis, the first time this family of proteins is found in any arthropod salivary transcriptome.
Analysis of the salivary transcriptome of the flea X. cheopis revealed the unique pathways taken in the evolution of the salivary cocktail of fleas. Gene duplication events appear as an important driving force in the creation of salivary cocktails of blood feeding arthropods, as was observed with ticks and mosquitoes. Only five other flea salivary sequences exist at this time at NCBI, all from the cat flea C. felis. This work accordingly represents the only relatively extensive sialome description of any flea species. Sialotranscriptomes of additional flea genera will reveal the extent that these novel polypeptide families are common throughout the Siphonaptera.
Yersinia pestis, the agent of plague, is usually transmitted by fleas. To produce a transmissible infection, Y. pestis colonizes the flea midgut and forms a biofilm in the proventricular valve, which blocks normal blood feeding. The enteropathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, from which Y. pestis recently evolved, is not transmitted by fleas. However, both Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis form biofilms that adhere to the external mouthparts and block feeding of Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes, which has been proposed as a model of Y. pestis-flea interactions. We compared the ability of Y. pestis and Y. pseudotuberculosis to infect the rat flea Xenopsylla cheopis and to produce biofilms in the flea and in vitro. Five of 18 Y. pseudotuberculosis strains, encompassing seven serotypes, including all three serotype O3 strains tested, were unable to stably colonize the flea midgut. The other strains persisted in the flea midgut for 4 weeks but did not increase in numbers, and none of the 18 strains colonized the proventriculus or produced a biofilm in the flea. Y. pseudotuberculosis strains also varied greatly in their ability to produce biofilms in vitro, but there was no correlation between biofilm phenotype in vitro or on the surface of C. elegans and the ability to colonize or block fleas. Our results support a model in which a genetic change in the Y. pseudotuberculosis progenitor of Y. pestis extended its pre-existing ex vivo biofilm-forming ability to the flea gut environment, thus enabling proventricular blockage and efficient flea-borne transmission.
Yersinia pestis is an important human pathogen that is maintained in flea-rodent enzootic cycles in many parts of the world. During its life cycle, Y. pestis senses host-specific environmental cues such as temperature and regulates gene expression appropriately to adapt to the insect or mammalian host. For example, Y. pestis synthesizes different forms of lipid A when grown at temperatures corresponding to the in vivo environments of the mammalian host and the flea vector. At 37°C, tetra-acylated lipid A is the major form; but at 26°C or below, hexa-acylated lipid A predominates. In this study, we show that the Y. pestis msbB (lpxM) and lpxP homologs encode the acyltransferases that add C12 and C16:1 groups, respectively, to lipid IVA to generate the hexa-acylated form, and that their expression is upregulated at 21°C in vitro and in the flea midgut. A Y. pestis ΔmsbB ΔlpxP double mutant that did not produce hexa-acylated lipid A was more sensitive to cecropin A, but not to polymyxin B. This mutant was able to infect and block fleas as well as the parental wild-type strain, indicating that the low-temperature-dependent change to hexa-acylated lipid A synthesis is not required for survival in the flea gut.
Yersinia pestis, the cause of bubonic plague, blocks feeding by its vector, the flea. Recent evidence indicates that blockage is mediated by an in vivo biofilm. Y. pestis and the closely related Yersinia pseudotuberculosis also make biofilms on the cuticle of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which block this laboratory animal's feeding. Random screening of Y. pseudotuberculosis transposon insertion mutants with a C. elegans biofilm assay identified gmhA as a gene required for normal biofilms. gmhA encodes phosphoheptose isomerase, an enzyme required for synthesis of heptose, a conserved component of lipopolysaccharide and lipooligosaccharide. A Y. pestis gmhA mutant was constructed and was severely defective for C. elegans biofilm formation and for flea blockage but only moderately defective in an in vitro biofilm assay. These results validate use of the C. elegans biofilm system to identify genes and pathways involved in Y. pestis flea blockage.
Polymeric β-1,6-N-acetyl-d-glucosamine (poly-β-1,6-GlcNAc) has been implicated as an Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis biofilm adhesin, the formation of which requires the pgaABCD and icaABCD loci, respectively. Enzymatic hydrolysis of poly-β-1,6-GlcNAc, demonstrated for the first time by chromatography and mass spectrometry, disrupts biofilm formation by these species and by Yersinia pestis and Pseudomonas fluorescens, which possess pgaABCD homologues.