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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 21;109(8):3083-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1112729109. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

Pulmonary infection by Yersinia pestis rapidly establishes a permissive environment for microbial proliferation.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


Disease progression of primary pneumonic plague is biphasic, consisting of a preinflammatory and a proinflammatory phase. During the long preinflammatory phase, bacteria replicate to high levels, seemingly uninhibited by normal pulmonary defenses. In a coinfection model of pneumonic plague, it appears that Yersinia pestis quickly creates a localized, dominant anti-inflammatory state that allows for the survival and rapid growth of both itself and normally avirulent organisms. Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, the relatively recent progenitor of Y. pestis, shows no similar trans-complementation effect, which is unprecedented among other respiratory pathogens. We demonstrate that the effectors secreted by the Ysc type III secretion system are necessary but not sufficient to mediate this apparent immunosuppression. Even an unbiased negative selection screen using a vast pool of Y. pestis mutants revealed no selection against any known virulence genes, demonstrating the transformation of the lung from a highly restrictive to a generally permissive environment during the preinflammatory phase of pneumonic plague.

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