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PLoS Pathog. 2016 Jun 30;12(6):e1005724. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1005724. eCollection 2016 Jun.

Discovery of a Natural Microsporidian Pathogen with a Broad Tissue Tropism in Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Division of Biological Sciences, Section of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of California San Diego (UCSD), La Jolla, California, United States of America.
École Normale Supérieure, Institut de Biologie de l'ENS (IBENS), CNRS-INSERM, Paris, France.


Microbial pathogens often establish infection within particular niches of their host for replication. Determining how infection occurs preferentially in specific host tissues is a key aspect of understanding host-microbe interactions. Here, we describe the discovery of a natural microsporidian parasite of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that displays a unique tissue tropism compared to previously described parasites of this host. We characterize the life cycle of this new species, Nematocida displodere, including pathogen entry, intracellular replication, and exit. N. displodere can invade multiple host tissues, including the epidermis, muscle, neurons, and intestine of C. elegans. Despite robust invasion of the intestine very little replication occurs there, with the majority of replication occurring in the muscle and epidermis. This feature distinguishes N. displodere from two closely related microsporidian pathogens, N. parisii and N. sp. 1, which exclusively invade and replicate in the intestine. Comparison of the N. displodere genome with N. parisii and N. sp. 1 reveals that N. displodere is the earliest diverging species of the Nematocida genus. Over 10% of the proteins encoded by the N. displodere genome belong to a single species-specific family of RING-domain containing proteins of unknown function that may be mediating interactions with the host. Altogether, this system provides a powerful whole-animal model to investigate factors responsible for pathogen growth in different tissue niches.

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