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Infect Immun. 2015 May;83(5):2065-81. doi: 10.1128/IAI.02913-14. Epub 2015 Mar 9.

High-throughput, signature-tagged mutagenic approach to identify novel virulence factors of Yersinia pestis CO92 in a mouse model of infection.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, UTMB, Galveston, Texas, USA


The identification of new virulence factors in Yersinia pestis and understanding their molecular mechanisms during an infection process are necessary in designing a better vaccine or to formulate an appropriate therapeutic intervention. By using a high-throughput, signature-tagged mutagenic approach, we created 5,088 mutants of Y. pestis strain CO92 and screened them in a mouse model of pneumonic plague at a dose equivalent to 5 50% lethal doses (LD50) of wild-type (WT) CO92. From this screen, we obtained 118 clones showing impairment in disseminating to the spleen, based on hybridization of input versus output DNA from mutant pools with 53 unique signature tags. In the subsequent screen, 20/118 mutants exhibited attenuation at 8 LD50 when tested in a mouse model of bubonic plague, with infection by 10/20 of the aforementioned mutants resulting in 40% or higher survival rates at an infectious dose of 40 LD50. Upon sequencing, six of the attenuated mutants were found to carry interruptions in genes encoding hypothetical proteins or proteins with putative functions. Mutants with in-frame deletion mutations of two of the genes identified from the screen, namely, rbsA, which codes for a putative sugar transport system ATP-binding protein, and vasK, a component of the type VI secretion system, were also found to exhibit some attenuation at 11 or 12 LD50 in a mouse model of pneumonic plague. Likewise, among the remaining 18 signature-tagged mutants, 9 were also attenuated (40 to 100%) at 12 LD50 in a pneumonic plague mouse model. Previously, we found that deleting genes encoding Braun lipoprotein (Lpp) and acyltransferase (MsbB), the latter of which modifies lipopolysaccharide function, reduced the virulence of Y. pestis CO92 in mouse models of bubonic and pneumonic plague. Deletion of rbsA and vasK genes from either the Δlpp single or the Δlpp ΔmsbB double mutant augmented the attenuation to provide 90 to 100% survivability to mice in a pneumonic plague model at 20 to 50 LD50. The mice infected with the Δlpp ΔmsbB ΔrbsA triple mutant at 50 LD50 were 90% protected upon subsequent challenge with 12 LD50 of WT CO92, suggesting that this mutant or others carrying combinational deletions of genes identified through our screen could potentially be further tested and developed into a live attenuated plague vaccine(s).

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