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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004 Feb;70(2):729-35.

Effect of extracellular products of Pseudoalteromonas atlantica on the edible crab Cancer pagurus.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, United Kingdom.


Previous studies have shown that injection of extracellular products (ECP) of Pseudoalteromononas atlantica isolated from shell disease-infected edible crabs (Cancer pagurus) into healthy crabs causes rapid death. In this study we examined the nature of the active lethal factor(s) in ECP. Injection of ECP into crabs caused a rapid decline in the total number of circulating hemocytes (blood cells), and the crabs died within 60 to 90 min. The individuals that died showed eyestalk retraction, limb paralysis, and lack of antennal sensitivity, suggesting that the active factor(s) targeted the nervous system. Histopathological investigations showed that affected crabs had large aggregates of hemocytes in the gills, and there was destruction of the tubules in the hepatopancreas. The active factor in ECP was not sensitive to heat treatment (100 degrees C for 30 min) and proteinase K digestion. As lipopolysaccharide (LPS) was a potential candidate for the lethal factor, it was purified from whole P. atlantica bacteria or ECP and subsequently injected into crabs. These crabs had all of the external symptoms observed previously with ECP, such as limb paralysis and eyestalk retraction, and they died within 90 min after challenge, although no significant decline in the number of circulating hemocytes was observed. Similarly, in vitro incubation of hemocytes with purified LPS (1 to 20 microg) from P. atlantica did not result in the clumping reaction observed with ECP but did result in a degranulation reaction and eventual cell lysis. Injection of crabs with Escherichia coli or Pseudomonas aeruginosa LPS (1 microg g of body weight(-1)) did not cause any of the characteristic symptoms observed following exposure to P. atlantica LPS. No mortality of crabs followed the injection of E. coli LPS, but P. aeruginosa LPS caused ca. 80% mortality at 2 h after injection. Overall, these results show that the main virulence factor of P. atlantica for edible crabs is LPS either alone or in combination with other heat-stable factors.

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