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PLoS Pathog. 2020 Mar 24;16(3):e1008444. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008444. [Epub ahead of print]

Surfing motility is a complex adaptation dependent on the stringent stress response in Pseudomonas aeruginosa LESB58.

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Centre for Microbial Diseases and Immunity Research, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease that affects mucin-producing body organs such as the lungs. Characteristic of CF is the production of thick, viscous mucus, containing the glycoprotein mucin, that can lead to progressive airway obstruction. Recently, we demonstrated that the presence of mucin induced a rapid surface adaptation in motile bacteria termed surfing motility, which data presented here indicates is very different from swarming motility. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the main colonizing pathogen in CF, employs several stress coping mechanisms to survive the highly viscous environment of the CF lung. We used motility-based assays and RNA-Seq to study the stringent stress response in the hypervirulent CF isolate LESB58 (Liverpool Epidemic Strain). Motility experiments revealed that an LESB58 stringent response mutant (ΔrelAΔspoT) was unable to surf. Transcriptional profiling of ΔrelAΔspoT mutant cells from surfing agar plates, when compared to wild-type cells from the surfing edge, revealed 2,584 dysregulated genes. Gene Ontology and KEGG enrichment analysis revealed effects of the stringent response on amino acid, nucleic acid and fatty acid metabolism, TCA cycle and glycolysis, type VI secretion, as well as chemotaxis, cell communication, iron transport, nitrogen metabolic processes and cyclic-di-GMP signalling. Screening of the ordered PA14 transposon library revealed 224 mutants unable to surf and very limited overlap with genes required for swarming. Mutants affecting surfing included two downstream effector genes of the stringent stress response, the copper regulator cueR and the quinolone synthase pqsH. Both the cueR and pqsH cloned genes complemented the surfing deficiency of ΔrelAΔspoT. Our study revealed insights into stringent stress dependency in LESB58 and showed that surfing motility is stringently-controlled via the expression of cueR and pqsH. Downstream factors of the stringent stress response are important to investigate in order to fully understand its ability to colonize and persist in the CF lung.

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Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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