Evidence for an intermediate colony morphology of Vibrio vulnificus

  • Rosche T
  • Smith B
  • Oliver J
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Vibrio vulnificus causes both food-borne disease and wound infections. Most V. vulnificus strains express capsular polysaccharide {(CPS),} which is required for the virulence of this organism. Under standard growth conditions, {CPS} expression is lost at a relatively high frequency (10(-3) to 10(-4)), resulting in a switch from an opaque {(Op,} {CPS+)} colony morphology to a translucent {(Tr,} {CPS-)} colony morphology. The wzb gene, which encodes a phosphatase required for {CPS} expression, has been proposed to be involved in this switch through a site-specific deletion of the entire gene. In an examination of five strains, we found that the frequency of wzb deletion in Tr colonies varies by strain and therefore does not account for all the Tr colonies that are seen. In addition, we have identified a third, intermediate {(Int)} colony morphotype, in which the colonies appear less opaque but are not fully translucent. {PCR} studies have demonstrated that Int colonies still contain the wzb gene, while reverse transcriptase {PCR} studies have shown that although Int strains retain expression of wzb, in some cases the transcription of wzb is reduced. Int strains switch to a true Tr (wzb negative) morphotype at a very high frequency (nearly 100%) under certain conditions. Finally, Int colonies, which in some cases can easily be mistaken for Tr colonies, have been observed to occasionally revert to Op, while Tr colonies containing a wzb deletion presumably are unable to revert to the encapsulated form.

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