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Environ Microbiol. 2007 Apr;9(4):869-79.

Gene expression profile of Vibrio cholerae in the cold stress-induced viable but non-culturable state.

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Division of Biomedical Food Research, National Institute of Health Sciences, Kamiyoga 1-18-1, Tokyo 158-8501, Japan.


Vibrio cholerae is an aetiological agent of cholera that inhabits marine and estuarine environments. It can survive harsh environments by entering the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state, but the related changes in gene expression have not been described. Here, we experimentally induced the VBNC state in V. cholerae O1, by incubation in artificial seawater at 4 degrees C. Bacterial cells that were incubated for 70 days retained their membrane integrity and were pathogenic, colonizing the gut of iron-dextran-treated mice, even though they formed no colonies on tryptic soy agar (TSA) or TSA amended with pyruvate. We therefore used this stage of cells as the VBNC bacteria. We compared the global transcription pattern of the VBNC cells with that of stationary-phase cells grown in rich medium. A total of 100 genes were induced by more than fivefold in the VBNC state, and the modulated genes were mostly those responsible for cellular processes. Furthermore, real-time RT-PCR analysis verified the changes in the expression levels, showing that the VC0230 [iron(III) ABC transporter], VC1212 (polB), VC2132 (fliG) and VC2187 (flaC) mRNAs were increased in the non-culturable state. Thus, these genes may be suitable markers for the detection of VBNC V. cholerae. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a comprehensive transcriptome analysis of V. cholerae in the VBNC state. The significance of this gene expression profile compared with those of in vivo isolates and non-stressed bacteria (culturable in vitro) is its potential to provide information about the public health risk from dormant bacteria.

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