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PLoS One. 2009 Sep 14;4(9):e7023. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007023.

The NlpD lipoprotein is a novel Yersinia pestis virulence factor essential for the development of plague.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Israel Institute for Biological Research, Ness-Ziona, Israel.


Yersinia pestis is the causative agent of plague. Previously we have isolated an attenuated Y. pestis transposon insertion mutant in which the pcm gene was disrupted. In the present study, we investigated the expression and the role of pcm locus genes in Y. pestis pathogenesis using a set of isogenic surE, pcm, nlpD and rpoS mutants of the fully virulent Kimberley53 strain. We show that in Y. pestis, nlpD expression is controlled from elements residing within the upstream genes surE and pcm. The NlpD lipoprotein is the only factor encoded from the pcm locus that is essential for Y. pestis virulence. A chromosomal deletion of the nlpD gene sequence resulted in a drastic reduction in virulence to an LD(50) of at least 10(7) cfu for subcutaneous and airway routes of infection. The mutant was unable to colonize mouse organs following infection. The filamented morphology of the nlpD mutant indicates that NlpD is involved in cell separation; however, deletion of nlpD did not affect in vitro growth rate. Trans-complementation experiments with the Y. pestis nlpD gene restored virulence and all other phenotypic defects. Finally, we demonstrated that subcutaneous administration of the nlpD mutant could protect animals against bubonic and primary pneumonic plague. Taken together, these results demonstrate that Y. pestis NlpD is a novel virulence factor essential for the development of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Further, the nlpD mutant is superior to the EV76 prototype live vaccine strain in immunogenicity and in conferring effective protective immunity. Thus it could serve as a basis for a very potent live vaccine against bubonic and pneumonic plague.

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