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Microbiology. 2012 Aug;158(Pt 8):2073-88. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.058560-0. Epub 2012 May 24.

Extensive variation in surface lipoprotein gene content and genomic changes associated with virulence during evolution of a novel North American house finch epizootic strain of Mycoplasma gallisepticum.

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Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science and Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA.


Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a significant respiratory and reproductive pathogen of domestic poultry, has since 1994 been recognized as an emergent pathogen of the American house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus). Epizootic spread and pathognomonic characteristics of house finch-associated Mycoplasma gallisepticum (HFMG) have been studied as a model of an emergent to endemic pathogen in a novel host. Here we present comparative analysis of eight HFMG genomes, including one from an index isolate and seven isolates separated spatially and temporally (1994-2008) across the epizootic, and notably having differences in virulence. HFMG represented a monophyletic clade relative to sequenced poultry isolates, with genomic changes indicating a novel M. gallisepticum lineage and including unique deletions of coding sequence. Though most of the HFMG genome was highly conserved among isolates, genetic distances correlated with temporal-spatial distance from the index. The most dramatic genomic differences among HFMG involved phase-variable and immunodominant VlhA lipoprotein genes, including those variable in presence and genomic location. Other genomic differences included tandem copy number variation of a 5 kbp repeat, changes in and adjacent to the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and small-scale changes affecting coding potential and association of genes with virulence. Divergence of monophyletic isolates from similar time/space in the epizootic indicated local diversification of distinct HFMG sublineages. Overall, these data identify candidate virulence genes and reveal the importance of phase-variable lipoproteins during the evolution of M. gallisepticum during its emergence and dissemination in a novel host in nature, likely mediating an important role at the interface between pathogen virulence and host immunity.

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