The soil-dwelling, saprophytic actinomycete Rhodococcus equi is a multihost, facultative intracellular pathogen of macrophages. When inhaled by susceptible foals, it causes severe bronchopneumonia. It is also a pathogen of pigs, which may develop submaxillary lymphadenitis upon exposure. R. equi isolates obtained from foals and pigs possess conjugative plasmids housing a pathogenicity island (PAI) containing a novel family of genes of unknown function called the v irulence- a ssociated p rotein or vap family. The PAI regions of the equine and swine plasmids differ in vap gene composition, with equine isolates possessing six vap genes, including the major virulence determinant vapA , while the PAIs of swine isolates house vapB and five other unique vap genes. Possession of the pVAPA-type virulence plasmid by equine isolates bestows the capacity for intramacrophage replication essential for disease development in vivo . Swine isolates of R. equi are largely unstudied. Here, we show that R. equi isolates from pigs, carrying pVAPB-type plasmids, are able to replicate in a plasmid-dependent manner in macrophages obtained from a variety of species (murine, swine, and equine) and anatomical locations. Similarly, equine isolates carrying pVAPA-type plasmids are capable of replication in swine macrophages. Plasmid swapping between equine and swine strains through conjugation did not alter the intracellular replication capacity of the parental strain, indicating that coevolution of the plasmid and chromosome is not crucial for this attribute. These results demonstrate that while distinct plasmid types exist among R. equi isolates obtained from equine and swine sources, this tropism is not determined by host species-specific intramacrophage replication capabilities. IMPORTANCE This work greatly advances our understanding of the opportunistic pathogen Rhodococcus equi , a disease agent of animals and immunocompromised people. Clinical isolates from diseased foals carry a conjugative virulence plasmid, pVAPA1037, that expresses Vap proteins, including VapA, essential for intramacrophage replication and virulence in vivo . The understudied R. equi isolates from pigs carry a related but different plasmid, pVAPB, expressing distinct Vap proteins, including VapB. In this work, we document for the first time that R. equi isolates carrying pVAPB-type plasmids are capable of intramacrophage replication. Moreover, we show that R. equi isolates carrying either plasmid type can replicate in both equine and swine macrophages, indicating that host species tropism is not due to species-specific intramacrophage replication capabilities defined by plasmid type. Furthermore, plasmid swapping between equine and swine strains did not alter intracellular replication capacity, indicating that coevolution of the plasmid and chromosome is not essential for intracellular growth.
Willingham-Lane, J. M., Berghaus, L. J., Giguère, S., & Hondalus, M. K. (2016). Influence of Plasmid Type on the Replication of Rhodococcus equi in Host Macrophages . MSphere, 1(5). https://doi.org/10.1128/msphere.00186-16