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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 17;5(12):e14379. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014379.

Role of the Yersinia pestis yersiniabactin iron acquisition system in the incidence of flea-borne plague.

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Equipe Peste et Yersinia pestis, Centre d'Infection et d'Immunité de Lille, Institut Pasteur de Lille, Lille, France.


Plague is a flea-borne zoonosis caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Y. pestis mutants lacking the yersiniabactin (Ybt) siderophore-based iron transport system are avirulent when inoculated intradermally but fully virulent when inoculated intravenously in mice. Presumably, Ybt is required to provide sufficient iron at the peripheral injection site, suggesting that Ybt would be an essential virulence factor for flea-borne plague. Here, using a flea-to-mouse transmission model, we show that a Y. pestis strain lacking the Ybt system causes fatal plague at low incidence when transmitted by fleas. Bacteriology and histology analyses revealed that a Ybt-negative strain caused only primary septicemic plague and atypical bubonic plague instead of the typical bubonic form of disease. The results provide new evidence that primary septicemic plague is a distinct clinical entity and suggest that unusual forms of plague may be caused by atypical Y. pestis strains.

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