New Insights into How Yersinia pestis Adapts to Its Mammalian Host during Bubonic Plague

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Abstract

Bubonic plague (a fatal, flea-transmitted disease) remains an international public health concern. Although our understanding of the pathogenesis of bubonic plague has improved significantly over the last few decades, researchers have still not been able to define the complete set of Y. pestis genes needed for disease or to characterize the mechanisms that enable infection. Here, we generated a library of Y. pestis mutants, each lacking one or more of the genes previously identified as being up-regulated in vivo. We then screened the library for attenuated virulence in rodent models of bubonic plague. Importantly, we tested mutants both individually and using a novel, "per-pool" screening method that we have developed. Our data showed that in addition to genes involved in physiological adaptation and resistance to the stress generated by the host, several previously uncharacterized genes are required for virulence. One of these genes (ympt1.66c, which encodes a putative helicase) has been acquired by horizontal gene transfer. Deletion of ympt1.66c reduced Y. pestis' ability to spread to the lymph nodes draining the dermal inoculation site--probably because loss of this gene decreased the bacteria's ability to survive inside macrophages. Our results suggest that (i) intracellular survival during the early stage of infection is important for plague and (ii) horizontal gene transfer was crucial in the acquisition of this ability.

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Pradel, E., Lemaître, N., Merchez, M., Ricard, I., Reboul, A., Dewitte, A., & Sebbane, F. (2014). New Insights into How Yersinia pestis Adapts to Its Mammalian Host during Bubonic Plague. PLoS Pathogens, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1004029

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