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Int J Med Microbiol. 2000 Oct;290(4-5):483-7.

Murine toxin of Yersinia pestis shows phospholipase D activity but is not required for virulence in mice.

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Rocky Mountain Laboratories, Hamilton, MT, USA.


Purified murine toxin (Ymt) of Yersinia pestis is highly toxic for mice and rats but less active in other animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs and monkeys. This suggested that Ymt contributes to the very low infectious dose of Y. pestis in mice. The gene encoding Ymt (ymt) is localised on the 100-kb plasmid pFra, which is unique for Y. pestis. Sequence analysis revealed that Ymt showed homology to proteins of the phospholipase D (PLD) superfamily of proteins. Y. pestis strains expressing Ymt possessed PLD activity whereas strains carrying deletions in the ymt gene showed no detectable PLD activity. Western blot analysis showed that Ymt was associated with bacteria under normal growth conditions, and immunogold EM revealed that Ymt was mainly localised in the bacterial cytoplasm. Ymt was purified to homogeneity, and the purified toxin showed a dose-dependent PLD activity. Substitution of amino acids in the PLD consensus motif of Ymt essentially abolished the enzymatic activity and these variants of the toxin were no longer toxic to mice. Interestingly, an in-frame deletion mutant of ymt in the Y pestis strain KIM was not significantly attenuated for mouse virulence. Together with the observation that expression of Ymt was higher at room temperature compared to 37 degrees C this prompted us to investigate the role of Ymt in the flea vector. Fleas were infected with isogenic ymt+ or ymt- mutant strains of Y. pestis. Preliminary results suggest that Ymt is important for survival of Y. pestis in the flea and thereby also for the flea-borne route of infection.

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