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Histochem Cell Biol. 2014 Aug;142(2):171-84. doi: 10.1007/s00418-014-1189-y. Epub 2014 Feb 13.

Electron tomography and cryo-SEM characterization reveals novel ultrastructural features of host-parasite interaction during Chlamydia abortus infection.

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Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, University Hospital of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 23, 89081, Ulm, Germany,


Chlamydia (C.) abortus is a widely spread pathogen among ruminants that can be transmitted to women during pregnancy leading to severe systemic infection with consecutive abortion. As a member of the Chlamydiaceae, C. abortus shares the characteristic feature of an obligate intracellular biphasic developmental cycle with two morphological forms including elementary bodies (EBs) and reticulate bodies (RBs). In contrast to other chlamydial species, C. abortus ultrastructure has not been investigated yet. To do so, samples were fixed by high-pressure freezing and processed by different electron microscopic methods. Freeze-substituted samples were analysed by transmission electron microscopy, scanning transmission electron microscopical tomography and immuno-electron microscopy, and freeze-fractured samples were analysed by cryo-scanning electron microscopy. Here, we present three ultrastructural features of C. abortus that have not been reported up to now. Firstly, the morphological evidence that C. abortus is equipped with the type three secretion system. Secondly, the accumulation and even coating of whole inclusion bodies by membrane complexes consisting of multiple closely adjacent membranes which seems to be a C. abortus specific feature. Thirdly, the formation of small vesicles in the periplasmic space of RBs in the second half of the developmental cycle. Concerning the time point of their formation and the fact that they harbour chlamydial components, these vesicles might be morphological correlates of an intermediate step during the process of redifferentiation of RBs into EBs. As this feature has also been shown for C. trachomatis and C. pneumoniae, it might be a common characteristic of the family of Chlamydiaceae.

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