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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45187. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045187. Epub 2012 Sep 18.

Survival of Vibrio cholerae in nutrient-poor environments is associated with a novel "persister" phenotype.

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Department of Environmental and Global Health, School of Public Health and Health Profession, University of Florida at Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida, USA.


In response to antibiotic and/or environmental stress, some species of bacteria shift to a "persister" phenotype. Although toxigenic Vibrio cholerae, responsible for the disease cholera, can be found in nutrient-poor aquatic environments in endemic areas, the underlying mechanism(s) by which culturable cells persist in these environmental reservoirs is largely unknown. Here we report that introduction of V. cholerae into a nutrient-poor filter sterilized lake water (FSLW) microcosm promoted a shift to what we have defined as a "persister" phenotype (PP) which was culturable for >700 days. Direct transfer of PP of V. cholerae from original microcosms to freshly prepared FSLW resulted in the same pattern of persistence seen in the original microcosms. Scanning electron microscopy of cells persisting for over 700 days demonstrated cell morphologies that were very small in size, with a high degree of aggregation associated with flagella emanating from all aspects of the cell. V. cholerae PP cells reverted to a typical V. cholerae morphology when transferred to nutrient-rich L- broth. Cell-free supernatants obtained from microcosms at 24 hours, 180 days, and 700 days all showed >2-fold increase in CAI-1 signaling molecules, consistent with quorum sensing activity, as has been described for Pseudomonas aeruginosa persister cells. Chitin and phosphate promoted cell growth. Our data suggest that nutrient stress can select a V. cholerae persister phenotype in environmental reservoirs, with these strains then seeding subsequent cholera epidemics in response to chitin and phosphate availability.

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