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Adv Microb Physiol. 2001;44:141-81.

Environmental sensing mechanisms in Bordetella.

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Division of Infection and Immunity, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Joseph Black Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK.


The success of a bacterial pathogen may depend on its ability to sense and respond to different environments. This is particularly true of those pathogens whose survival depends on adaptation to different niches both within and outside the host. Members of the genus Bordetella cause infections in humans, other animals and birds. Two closely related species, B. pertussis and B. bronchiseptica, cause respiratory disease and express a similar range of virulence factors during infection, but exhibit different host ranges and responses to environmental change. B. pertussis has no known reservoir other than humans and is assumed to be transmitted directly via aerosol droplets between hosts. B. bronchiseptica, on the other hand, has the potential to survive and grow in the natural environment. Comparison of the manner in which these two organisms respond to external signals has provided important insights into the co-ordinate regulation of gene expression as a response to a changing environment. During infection, both species produce a range of virulence factors whose expression is co-ordinated by two members of the two-component family of signal transduction proteins, the bvg (bordetella virulence gene) and ris (regulator of intracellular stress response) loci. When active, the bvg locus directs the activity of a number of virulence determinants in both species whose products, such as adhesins and toxins, establish colonization of the host by the bacteria, although each organism has evolved a slightly different strategy during pathogenesis. B. pertussis, the causative agent of whooping cough, promotes an acute disease and tends to be more virulent than B. bronchiseptica which generally causes chronic and persistent asymptomatic colonization of the respiratory tract. The recently identified ris locus appears to control the expression of factors important for intracellular survival of B. bronchiseptica, but a role for this regulatory locus in B. pertussis infection has not been established. Expression of the virulence determinants controlled by the bvg and ris loci is subject to modulation by different environmental signals, such as low temperature, which act through these two-component systems. Evidence indicates that, for B. bronchiseptica, bvg-controlled determinants expressed under modulating conditions, such as motility, facilitate adaptation and survival in environments outside the host. With B. pertussis, however, there is no apparent requirement for prolonged survival outside the host and this difference is reflected in the expression of different, as yet uncharacterized, determinants as a response to modulating signals. The nature of the gene products involved and their assumed role in the life cycle of B. pertussis remains to be determined. Thus, comparative analysis of these species provides an excellent model for understanding the genetic requirements for pathogenesis of respiratory infection and adaptation to changing environments, both within and outside the host.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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