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ISME J. 2011 Feb;5(2):262-73. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.128. Epub 2010 Aug 5.

Salmonella transcriptional signature in Tetrahymena phagosomes and role of acid tolerance in passage through the protist.

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Produce Safety and Microbiology Unit, Western Regional Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, Albany, CA 94710, USA.


Salmonella enterica Typhimurium remains undigested in the food vacuoles of the common protist, Tetrahymena. Contrary to its interaction with Acanthamoeba spp., S. Typhimurium is not cytotoxic to Tetrahymena and is egested as viable cells in its fecal pellets. Through microarray gene expression profiling we investigated the factors in S. Typhimurium that are involved in its resistance to digestion by Tetrahymena. The transcriptome of S. Typhimurium in Tetrahymena phagosomes showed that 989 and 1282 genes were altered in expression compared with that in water and in LB culture medium, respectively. A great proportion of the upregulated genes have a role in anaerobic metabolism and the use of alternate electron acceptors. Many genes required for survival and replication within macrophages and human epithelial cells also had increased expression in Tetrahymena, including mgtC, one of the most highly induced genes in all three cells types. A ΔmgtC mutant of S. Typhimurium did not show decreased viability in Tetrahymena, but paradoxically, was egested at a higher cell density than the wild type. The expression of adiA and adiY, which are involved in arginine-dependent acid resistance, also was increased in the protozoan phagosome. A ΔadiAY mutant had lower viability after passage through Tetrahymena, and a higher proportion of S. Typhimurium wild-type cells within pellets remained viable after exposure to pH 3.4 as compared with uningested cells. Our results provide evidence that acid resistance has a role in the resistance of Salmonella to digestion by Tetrahymena and that passage through the protist confers physiological advantages relevant to its contamination cycle.

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