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Astrobiology. 2010 Nov;10(9):881-8. doi: 10.1089/ast.2010.0493.

The effects of low-shear mechanical stress on Yersinia pestis virulence.

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Department of Biology, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas 77004, USA.


Manned space exploration has created a need to evaluate the effects of spacelike stress on pathogenic and opportunistic microbes astronauts could carry with them to the International Space Station and beyond. Yersinia pestis (YP) causes bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic plague and is capable of killing infected patients within 3-7 days. In this study, low-shear modeled microgravity (LSMMG), a spacelike stress, was used to physically stress YP; and its effects on proliferation, cold growth, and type III secretion system (T3SS) function were evaluated. YP was grown to saturation in either LSMMG or normal gravity (NG) conditions prior to being used for RAW 246.7 cell infections, HeLa cell infections, and Yop secretion assays. A mutant strain of YP (ΔyopB) that lacks the ability to inject Yersinia outer membrane proteins (Yops) into the host cell was used as a negative control in cell infection experiments. Our experimental results indicate that YP cultivated under LSMMG resulted in reduced YopM production and secretion compared to its NG-grown counterpart. Similarly, NG-grown YP induced more cell rounding in HeLa cells than did the LSMMG-grown YP, which suggests that LSMMG somehow impairs T3SS optimum function. Also, LSMMG-grown YP used to infect cultured RAW 246.7 cells showed a similar pattern of dysfunction in that it proliferated less than did its NG-grown counterpart during an 8-hour infection period. This study suggests that LSMMG can attenuate bacterial virulence contrary to previously published data that have demonstrated LSMMG-induced hypervirulence of other Gram-negative enterics.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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