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Cell Microbiol. 2007 Mar;9(3):645-56. Epub 2006 Sep 26.

Clonal variation in Xenorhabdus nematophila virulence and suppression of Manduca sexta immunity.

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Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA.


Virulence of the insect pathogen Xenorhabdus nematophila is attributed in part to its ability to suppress immunity. For example, X. nematophila suppresses transcripts encoding several antimicrobial proteins, even in the presence of Salmonella enterica, an inducer of these transcripts. We show here that virulence and immune suppression phenotypes can be lost in a subpopulation of X. nematophila. Cells that have undergone 'virulence modulation' (vmo) have attenuated virulence and fail to suppress antimicrobial transcript levels, haemocyte aggregation and nodulation in Manduca sexta insects. When plated on certain media, vmo cells have a higher proportion of translucent (versus opaque) colonies compared with non-vmo cells. Like vmo strains, translucent colony isolates are defective in virulence and immune suppression. The X. nematophila genome encodes two 'opacity' genes with similarity to the Ail/PagC/Rck family of outer membrane proteins involved in adherence, invasion and serum resistance. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis shows that RNA levels of one of these opacity genes, opaB, are higher in opaque relative to translucent colonies. We propose that in X. nematophila opaB may be one of several factors involved in immune suppression during infection, and expression of these factors can be co-ordinately eliminated in a subpopulation, possibly through a phase variation mechanism.

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