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Int J Food Microbiol. 2006 Mar 1;107(1):83-91. Epub 2005 Nov 14.

Campylobacter jejuni loss of culturability in aqueous microcosms and ability to resuscitate in a mouse model.

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Istituto di Scienze Tossicologiche, Igienistiche ed Ambientali, Università di Urbino "Carlo Bo", Via S. Chiara 27, 61029 Urbino, Italy.


Water is known as one of the main transmission routes of Campylobacter and contributes to increase the number of sporadic infections and outbreaks. Campylobacter jejuni persists in the environment, especially in water, in a viable but non-culturable (VBNC) form that is thought to be a possible cause of water-borne outbreaks. In this study, we evaluated the loss of culturability and viability of 9 C. jejuni strains of clinical origin and one ATCC reference strain when kept at 4 degrees C in artificial sea water (ASW). Culturability was measured as colony-forming units while viability was evaluated by CTC-DAPI double staining and the combined CTC-specific fluorescent antibody technique (CTC-FA). When cultured on Columbia Agar plates, strains exhibited different growth profiles which allowed to classify them into three different groups. Both techniques used to monitor the viability of the bacterial cells showed that C. jejuni strains survived in the VBNC form in the microcosms through a period lasting from 138 to 152 days. The recovery of C. jejuni VBNC forms to culturability, as evidenced by cell division, was obtained by passage in the mouse intestine. Our results indicate that C. jejuni VBNC cells were able to remain in this state for a few months and regain their culturability after in vivo passage depending on their lasting in the VBNC state, which affects the number of respiring bacteria. In fact, the resuscitation was achieved when the number of respiring bacteria became higher than 10(4) cell/ml. Therefore, a relatively high microbial titer of respiring bacteria in the VBNC state seems to be important for the resuscitation and subsequent intestinal colonisation.

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