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PLoS Pathog. 2014 Mar 20;10(3):e1004013. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004013. eCollection 2014 Mar.

Identification of OmpA, a Coxiella burnetii protein involved in host cell invasion, by multi-phenotypic high-content screening.

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CNRS, UMR5236, CPBS, Montpellier, France; Université Montpellier 1, CPBS, Montpellier, France; Université Montpellier 2, CPBS, Montpellier, France.
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Porton Down, United Kingdom.


Coxiella burnetii is the agent of the emerging zoonosis Q fever. This pathogen invades phagocytic and non-phagocytic cells and uses a Dot/Icm secretion system to co-opt the endocytic pathway for the biogenesis of an acidic parasitophorous vacuole where Coxiella replicates in large numbers. The study of the cell biology of Coxiella infections has been severely hampered by the obligate intracellular nature of this microbe, and Coxiella factors involved in host/pathogen interactions remain to date largely uncharacterized. Here we focus on the large-scale identification of Coxiella virulence determinants using transposon mutagenesis coupled to high-content multi-phenotypic screening. We have isolated over 3000 Coxiella mutants, 1082 of which have been sequenced, annotated and screened. We have identified bacterial factors that regulate key steps of Coxiella infections: 1) internalization within host cells, 2) vacuole biogenesis/intracellular replication, and 3) protection of infected cells from apoptosis. Among these, we have investigated the role of Dot/Icm core proteins, determined the role of candidate Coxiella Dot/Icm substrates previously identified in silico and identified additional factors that play a relevant role in Coxiella pathogenesis. Importantly, we have identified CBU_1260 (OmpA) as the first Coxiella invasin. Mutations in ompA strongly decreased Coxiella internalization and replication within host cells; OmpA-coated beads adhered to and were internalized by non-phagocytic cells and the ectopic expression of OmpA in E. coli triggered its internalization within cells. Importantly, Coxiella internalization was efficiently inhibited by pretreating host cells with purified OmpA or by incubating Coxiella with a specific anti-OmpA antibody prior to host cell infection, suggesting the presence of a cognate receptor at the surface of host cells. In summary, we have developed multi-phenotypic assays for the study of host/pathogen interactions. By applying our methods to Coxiella burnetii, we have identified the first Coxiella protein involved in host cell invasion.

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