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Adv Microb Physiol. 2002;46:1-45.

Microarray analysis of bacterial pathogenicity.

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Departments of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University Medical School, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


The DNA microarray, a surface that contains an ordered arrangement of each identified open reading frame of a sequenced genome, is the engine of functional genomics. Its output, the expression profile, provides a genome wide snap-shot of the transcriptome. Refined by array-specific statistical instruments and data-mined by clustering algorithms and metabolic pathway databases, the expression profile discloses, at the transcriptional level, how the microbe adapts to new conditions of growth--the regulatory networks that govern the adaptive response and the metabolic and biosynthetic pathways that effect the new phenotype. Adaptation to host microenvironments underlies the capacity of infectious agents to persist in and damage host tissues. While monitoring the whole genome transcriptional response of bacterial pathogens within infected tissues has not been achieved, it is likely that the complex, tissue-specific response is but the sum of individual responses of the bacteria to specific physicochemical features that characterize the host milieu. These are amenable to experimentation in vitro and whole-genome expression studies of this kind have defined the transcriptional response to iron starvation, low oxygen, acid pH, quorum-sensing pheromones and reactive oxygen intermediates. These have disclosed new information about even well-studied processes and provide a portrait of the adapting bacterium as a 'system', rather than the product of a few genes or even a few regulons. Amongst the regulated genes that compose this adaptive system are transcription factors. Expression profiling experiments of transcription factor mutants delineate the corresponding regulatory cascade. The genetic basis for pathogenicity can also be studied by using microarray-based comparative genomics to characterize and quantify the extent of genetic variability within natural populations at the gene level of resolution. Also identified are differences between pathogen and commensal that point to possible virulence determinants or disclose evolutionary history. The host vigorously engages the pathogen; expression studies using host genome microarrays and bacterially infected cell cultures show that the initial host reaction is dominated by the innate immune response. However, within the complex expression profile of the host cell are components mediated by pathogen-specific determinants. In the future, the combined use of bacterial and host microarrays to study the same infected tissue will reveal the dialogue between pathogen and host in a gene-by-gene and site- and time-specific manner. Translating this conversation will not be easy and will probably require a combination of powerful bioinformatic tools and traditional experimental approaches--and considerable effort and time.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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