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Direct repeat-mediated deletion of a type IV pilin gene results in major virulence attenuation of Francisella tularensis
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Molecular Biology (Faculty of Science and Technology).
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Molecular Biology.
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Molecular Biology (Faculty of Science and Technology).
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2006 (English)In: Molecular Microbiology, ISSN 0950-382X, E-ISSN 1365-2958, Vol. 59, no 6, 1818-1830 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularaemia, is a highly infectious and virulent intracellular pathogen. There are two main human pathogenic subspecies, Francisella tularensis ssp. tularensis (type A), and Francisella tularensis ssp. holarctica (type B). So far, knowledge regarding key virulence determinants is limited but it is clear that intracellular survival and multiplication is one major virulence strategy of Francisella. In addition, genome sequencing has revealed the presence of genes encoding type IV pili (Tfp). One genomic region encoding three proteins with signatures typical for type IV pilins contained two 120 bp direct repeats. Here we establish that repeat-mediated loss of one of the putative pilin genes in a type B strain results in severe virulence attenuation in mice infected by subcutaneous route. Complementation of the mutant by introduction of the pilin gene in cis resulted in complete restoration of virulence. The level of attenuation was similar to that of the live vaccine strain and this strain was also found to lack the pilin gene as result of a similar deletion event mediated by the direct repeats. Presence of the pilin had no major effect on the ability to interact, survive and multiply inside macrophage-like cell lines. Importantly, the pilin-negative strain was impaired in its ability to spread from the initial site of infection to the spleen. Our findings indicate that this putative pilin is critical for Francisella infections that occur via peripheral routes.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Blackwell Publishing Ltd , 2006. Vol. 59, no 6, 1818-1830 p.
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-3217DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2006.05061.xOAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-3217DiVA: diva2:141723
Available from: 2008-05-15 Created: 2008-05-15 Last updated: 2016-03-01Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The role of the Type IV pili system in the virulence of Francisella tularensis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The role of the Type IV pili system in the virulence of Francisella tularensis
2008 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Francisella tularensis is a Gram-negative intracellular pathogen causing the zoonotic disease tularemia. F. tularensis can be found almost all over the world and has been recovered from several animal species, even though the natural reservoir of the bacterium and parts of its life cycle are still unknown. Humans usually get infected after handling infected animals or from bites of blood-feeding arthropod vectors. There are four subspecies of F. tularensis: the highly virulent tularensis (Type A) that causes a very aggressive form of the disease, with mortality as high as 60% if untreated, the moderately virulent holarctica (Type B) and mediasiatica, and the essentially avirulent subspecies F. novicida. So far, our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that would explain these differences in virulence among the subspecies is poor. However, recent developments of genetic tools and access to genomic sequences have laid the ground for progress in this research field. Analysis of genome sequences have identified several regions that differ between F. tularensis subspecies. One of these regions, RD19, encodes proteins postulated to be involved in assembly of type IV pili (Tfp), organelles that have been implicated in processes like twitching motility, biofilm formation and cell-to-cell communication in pathogenic bacteria. While there have been reports of pili-like structures on the surface of F. tularensis, these have not been linked to the Tfp encoding gene clusters until now. Herein, I present evidence that the Francisella pilin, PilA, can complement pilin-like characteristics and promote assembly of fibers in a heterologous system in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. pilA was demonstrated to be required for full virulence of both type A and type B strains in mice when infected via peripheral routes. A second region, RD18, encoding a protein unique to F. tularensis and without any known function, was verified to be essential for virulence in a type A strain. Interestingly, the non-licensed live vaccine strain, LVS (Type B), lacks both RD18 and RD19 (pilA) due to deletion events mediated by flanking direct repeats. The loss of RD18 and RD19 is responsible for the attenuation of LVS, since re-introducing them in cis could restore the virulence to a level similar to a virulent type B strain. Significantly, these deletion events are irreversible, preventing LVS to revert to a more virulent form. Therefore, this important finding could facilitate the licensing of LVS as a vaccine against tularemia.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Molekylärbiologi (Teknisk-naturvetenskaplig fakultet), 2008. 73 p.
Keyword
Francisella tularensis, tularemia, bacterial pathogenesis, Type IV pili, Type II secretion, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, PilA, RD18, RD19
National Category
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-1656 (URN)978-91-7264-553-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2008-06-05, Major Groove, 6L NUS, Umeå Universitet 901 87, Umeå, 09:00
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2008-05-15 Created: 2008-05-15Bibliographically approved
2. Identification of new virulence factors in Francisella tularensis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Identification of new virulence factors in Francisella tularensis
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularemia, is a highly virulent bacterium with an infection dose of less than ten bacteria. The ability of a pathogen to cause infection relies on different virulence mechanisms, but in Francisella tularensis relatively few virulence factors are known. Two F. tularensis subspecies are virulent in humans; the highly virulent subspecies tularensis, also referred to as type A, and the less virulent subspecies holarctica, also called type B. The aim of this thesis has been to improve the knowledge regarding the ability of Francisella to cause disease, with the emphasis on surface located and membrane associated proteins and structures. In addition I have also investigated how virulence is regulated by studying the role of the small RNA chaperone, Hfq.

The genome of Francisella appears to encode few regulatory genes. In my work I found that Hfq has an important role in regulation of virulence associated genes in Francisella. Similar to what has been found in other pathogens, Hfq functions in negative regulation, and this is the first time a negative regulation has been described for genes in the Francisella pathogenicity island. Another protein with a key role in virulence is a homologue to a disulphide oxidoreductase, DsbA, which was identified as an outer membrane lipoprotein in Francisella. A dsbA mutant was found to be severely attenuated for virulence and also induced protection against wild-type infections, thus making it a candidate for exploration as a new live vaccine. Additional genes with homology to known virulence determinants include a type IV pilin system. The pilin homologue, PilA, was identified to be required for full virulence in both type A and type B strains. In addition, genes involved in pili assembly and secretion, pilC and pilQ, were also found to be virulence associated in the type A strain.

In summary, dsbA, hfq and type IV pili associated genes were indentified to be virulence determinants in F. tularensis. DsbA is a potential target for drug development and a dsbA mutant a candidate for a new live vaccine strain. Furthermore the identification of Hfq as a novel regulatory factor opens new insights into the virulence regulatory network in Francisella.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Institutionen för Molekylärbiologi, Umeå universitet, 2010. 55 p.
Keyword
Francisella tularensis, regulation, virulence, Hfq, DsbA, type IV pili, membrane
National Category
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research subject
Molecular Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-30857 (URN)978-91-7264-916-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-02-12, Major Groove,, byggnad 6L, Norrlands universitetssjukhus, Umeå, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2010-01-22 Created: 2010-01-20 Last updated: 2010-01-22Bibliographically approved

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