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Vet Microbiol. 2004 Nov 15;103(3-4):219-30.

The effect of mutation on Rhodococcus equi virulence plasmid gene expression and mouse virulence.

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  • 1Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ont., Canada N1G 2W1.


An 81 kb virulence plasmid containing a pathogenicity island (PI) plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of Rhodococcus equi pneumonia in foals but its specific function in virulence and regulation of plasmid-encoded virulence genes is unclear. Using a LacZ selection marker developed for R. equi in this study, in combination with an apramycin resistance gene, an efficient two-stage homologous recombination targeted gene mutation procedure was used to mutate three virulence plasmid genes, a LysR regulatory gene homologue (ORF4), a ResD-like two-component response regulator homologue (ORF8), and a gene (ORF10) of unknown function that is highly expressed by R. equi inside macrophages, as well as the chromosomal gene operon, phoPR. Virulence testing by liver clearance after intravenous injection in mice showed that the ORF4 and ORF8 mutants were fully attenuated, that the phoPR mutant was hypervirulent, and that virulence of the ORF10 mutant remained unchanged. A virulence plasmid DNA microarray was used to compare the plasmid gene expression profile of each of the four gene-targeted mutants against the parental R. equi strain. Changes were limited to PI genes and gene induction was observed for all mutants, suggesting that expression of virulence plasmid genes is dominated by a negative regulatory network. The finding of attenuation of ORF4 and ORF8 mutants despite enhanced transcription of vapA suggests that factors other than VapA are important for full expression of virulence. ORF1, a putative Lsr antigen gene, was strongly and similarly induced in all mutants, implying a common regulatory pathway affecting this gene for all four mutated genes. ORF8 is apparently the centre of this common pathway. Two distinct highly correlated gene induction patterns were observed, that of the ORF4 and ORF8 mutants, and that of the ORF10 and phoPR mutants. The gene induction pattern distinguishing these two groups paralleled their virulence in mice.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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