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Microb Pathog. 2007 May-Jun;42(5-6):204-14. Epub 2007 Feb 15.

Modulation of virulence factors in Francisella tularensis determines human macrophage responses.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


Francisella tularensis, the causative agent of tularemia and Category A biodefense agent, is known to replicate within host macrophages, though the pathogenesis of this organism is incompletely understood. We have isolated a variant of F. tularensis live vaccine strain (LVS) based on colony morphology and its effect on macrophages. Human monocyte-derived macrophages produced more tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-6, and IL-12 p40 following exposure to the variant, designated the activating variant (ACV). The immunoreactivity of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from both LVS and ACV was comparable to the previously described blue variant and was distinct from the gray variant of LVS. We found, however, the soluble protein fractions of LVS and ACV differed. Further investigation using two-dimensional gel electrophoresis demonstrated higher levels of several proteins in the parental LVS isolate. The differentially expressed proteins featured several associated with virulence in F. tularensis and other pathogens, including intracellular growth locus C (IglC), a sigma(54)-modulation protein family member (YhbH), and aconitase. ACV reverted to the LVS phenotype, indicated by low cytokine induction and high IglC expression, after growth in a chemically defined medium. These data provide evidence that the levels of virulence factors in F. tularensis are modulated based on culture conditions and that this modulation impacts host responses. This work provides a basis for investigation of Francisella virulence factor regulation and the identification of additional factors, co-regulated with IglC, that affect macrophage responses.

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