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Mol Microbiol. 2002 May;44(3):877-87.

A hypermutator phenotype attenuates the virulence of Listeria monocytogenes in a mouse model.

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INSERM U-411, CHU Necker-Enfants Malades, 156 rue de Vaugirard, 75730 Paris Cedex 15, France.


The integrity of the genetic material of bacteria is guaranteed by a set of distinct repair mechanisms. The participation of these repair systems in bacterial pathogenicity has been addressed only recently. Here, we study for the first time the participation in virulence of the MutSL mismatch repair system of Listeria monocytogenes. The mutS and mutL genes, which are contiguous in the L. monocytogenes chromosome, were identified after in silico analysis. The deduced MutS shares 62% identity with MutS of Bacillus subtilis and 50% identity with HexA, its homologue in Streptococcus pneumoniae; MutL shares 59% identity with MutL of B. subtilis and 47% identity with HexB of S. pneumoniae. Functional analysis of the mutSL locus was studied by constructing a double knock-out mutant. We showed that the deletion DeltamutSL induces: (i) a 100- to 1000-fold increase in the spontaneous mutation rate; and (ii) a 10- to 15-fold increase in the frequency of transduction, thus demonstrating the role of mutSL of L. monocytogenes in both mismatch repair and homologous recombination. We found that the deletion DeltamutSL moderately affected bacterial virulence, with a 1-log increase in the lethal dose 50% (LD50) in the mouse. Strikingly, repeated passages of the mutant strain in mice reduced virulence further. Competition assays between wild-type and mutant strains showed that the deletion DeltamutSL reduced the capacity of L. monocytogenes to survive and multiply in mice. These results thus demonstrate that, for the intracellular pathogen L. monocytogenes, a hypermutator phenotype is more deleterious than profitable to its virulence.

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