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Infect Immun. 1989 Feb;57(2):546-52.

Mucoid phenotype of Klebsiella pneumoniae is a plasmid-encoded virulence factor.

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Service des Entérobactéries, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, Paris, France.


We have previously reported that the presence of a 180-kilobase plasmid encoding production of aerobactin was correlated with the virulence of Klebsiella pneumoniae K1 and K2 isolates. This work demonstrates that a variant of a K2 strain which has lost this plasmid, pKP100, becomes avirulent. Labeling of this plasmid with the mobilizable, replication-defective element pME28, used here as a mobilizable transposon, allowed the transfer of this plasmid into a plasmidless derivative. Virulence was restored upon reacquisition of this tagged plasmid, pKP101. In addition to aerobactin production, another phenotype could be correlated with the presence of this virulence plasmid: the mucoid phenotype of the bacterial colonies. Both wild-type and plasmidless strains are encapsulated, but only the former presented mucoid colonies. Participation of this phenotype in the virulence of K. pneumoniae was demonstrated by constructing a mutant altered in the plasmid gene encoding this phenotype. The resulting strain demonstrated a 1,000-fold decrease in virulence. Introduction of the recombinant plasmid pKP200 carrying the gene encoding this mucoid phenotype into Escherichia coli HB101 also led to the production of a mucoid phenotype. Rocket immunoelectrophoresis demonstrated that in E. coli this phenotype was due to the production of colanic acid. On the other hand, neither the overproduction of K2 capsular polysaccharide nor the presence of colanic acid was detected in mucoid strains of K. pneumoniae. We conclude that this mucoid phenotype is definitely an important virulence factor of K. pneumoniae. It is due to the plasmid-encoded production of a substance which is different from colanic acid and the capsular polysaccharide of K. pneumoniae.

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