Send to

Choose Destination
PLoS Pathog. 2011 Jul;7(7):e1002143. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002143. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

The cost of virulence: retarded growth of Salmonella Typhimurium cells expressing type III secretion system 1.

Author information

Institute of Microbiology, ETH Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Virulence factors generally enhance a pathogen's fitness and thereby foster transmission. However, most studies of pathogen fitness have been performed by averaging the phenotypes over large populations. Here, we have analyzed the fitness costs of virulence factor expression by Salmonella enterica subspecies I serovar Typhimurium in simple culture experiments. The type III secretion system ttss-1, a cardinal virulence factor for eliciting Salmonella diarrhea, is expressed by just a fraction of the S. Typhimurium population, yielding a mixture of cells that either express ttss-1 (TTSS-1(+) phenotype) or not (TTSS-1(-) phenotype). Here, we studied in vitro the TTSS-1(+) phenotype at the single cell level using fluorescent protein reporters. The regulator hilA controlled the fraction of TTSS-1+ individuals and their ttss-1 expression level. Strikingly, cells of the TTSS-1(+) phenotype grew slower than cells of the TTSS-1(-) phenotype. The growth retardation was at least partially attributable to the expression of TTSS-1 effector and/or translocon proteins. In spite of this growth penalty, the TTSS-1(+) subpopulation increased from <10% to approx. 60% during the late logarithmic growth phase of an LB batch culture. This was attributable to an increasing initiation rate of ttss-1 expression, in response to environmental cues accumulating during this growth phase, as shown by experimental data and mathematical modeling. Finally, hilA and hilD mutants, which form only fast-growing TTSS-1(-) cells, outcompeted wild type S. Typhimurium in mixed cultures. Our data demonstrated that virulence factor expression imposes a growth penalty in a non-host environment. This raises important questions about compensating mechanisms during host infection which ensure successful propagation of the genotype.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center