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Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2011 Nov;11(11):1433-8. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2011.0670. Epub 2011 Aug 25.

Virulence of pathogenic Coxiella burnetii strains after growth in the absence of host cells.

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  • 1Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Coxiella burnetii is a gram-negative bacterium that causes the zoonotic disease Q fever. Traditionally considered an obligate intracellular agent, the requirement to be grown in tissue culture cells, embryonated eggs, or animal hosts has made it difficult to isolate strains and perform genetic studies on C. burnetii. However, it was recently demonstrated that the attenuated Nine Mile Phase 2 (NM2) C. burnetii strain will grow axenically in acidified citrate cysteine medium (ACCM) in a 2.5% oxygen environment. The current study was undertaken to determine whether more virulent C. burnetii strains could be grown in ACCM, and whether virulence would be maintained after passage. The ACCM medium supported an ?1000-fold expansion of Nine Mile Phase 1 (NM1), NM2, M44, and Henzerling strains of C. burnetii, whereas the Priscilla (Q177) strain expanded only 100-fold, and the K strain (Q154) grew poorly in ACCM. To determine if passage in ACCM would maintain the virulence of C. burnetii, the NM1 strain was grown for up to 26 weekly passages in ACCM. C. burnetii maintained in ACCM for 5 or 8 passages maintained full virulence in a mouse model, but NM1 passaged for 23 or 26 times was somewhat attenuated. These data demonstrate that virulent strains of C. burnetii can be successfully passaged in ACCM; however, some strains can lose virulence after extended passage, and other strains grow poorly in this medium. The loss of virulence in axenic culture was associated with some truncation of lipopolysaccharide chains, suggesting a possible mechanism for attenuation.

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