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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 6;104(10):4136-41. Epub 2007 Feb 26.

Attenuated virulence of a Francisella mutant lacking the lipid A 4'-phosphatase.

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Department of Biochemistry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


Francisella tularensis causes tularemia, a highly contagious disease of animals and humans, but the virulence features of F. tularensis are poorly defined. F. tularensis and the related mouse pathogen Francisella novicida synthesize unusual lipid A molecules lacking the 4'-monophosphate group typically found in the lipid A of Gram-negative bacteria. LpxF, a selective phosphatase located on the periplasmic surface of the inner membrane, removes the 4'-phosphate moiety in the late stages of F. novicida lipid A assembly. To evaluate the relevance of the 4'-phosphatase to pathogenesis, we constructed a deletion mutant of lpxF and compared its virulence with wild-type F. novicida. Intradermal injection of 10(6) wild-type but not 10(8) mutant F. novicida cells is lethal to mice. The rapid clearance of the lpxF mutant is associated with a stronger local cytokine response and a greater influx of neutrophils compared with wild-type. The F. novicida mutant was highly susceptible to the cationic antimicrobial peptide polymyxin. LpxF therefore represents a kind of virulence factor that confers a distinct lipid A phenotype, preventing Francisella from activating the host innate immune response and preventing the bactericidal actions of cationic peptides. Francisella lpxF mutants may be useful for immunization against tularemia.

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