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Infect Immun. 2017 May 23;85(6). pii: e00001-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00001-17. Print 2017 Jun.

Key Role of Capsular Polysaccharide in the Induction of Systemic Infection and Abortion by Hypervirulent Campylobacter jejuni.

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Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA.
Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA.
Department of Statistics, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA.
Department of Veterinary Pathology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA.
Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA


Campylobacter jejuni is a zoonotic pathogen, and a hypervirulent clone, named clone SA, has recently emerged as the predominant cause of ovine abortion in the United States. To induce abortion, orally ingested Campylobacter must translocate across the intestinal epithelium, spread systemically in the circulation, and reach the fetoplacental tissue. Bacterial factors involved in these steps are not well understood. C. jejuni is known to produce capsular polysaccharide (CPS), but the specific role that CPS plays in systemic infection and particularly abortion in animals remains to be determined. In this study, we evaluated the role of CPS in bacteremia using a mouse model and in abortion using a pregnant guinea pig model following oral challenge. Compared with C. jejuni NCTC 11168 and 81-176, a clone SA isolate (IA3902) resulted in significantly higher bacterial counts and a significantly longer duration of bacteremia in mice. The loss of capsule production via gene-specific mutagenesis in IA3902 led to the complete abolishment of bacteremia in mice and abortion in pregnant guinea pigs, while complementation of capsule expression almost fully restored these phenotypes. The capsule mutant strain was also impaired for survival in guinea pig sera and sheep blood. Sequence-based analyses revealed that clone SA possesses a unique CPS locus with a mosaic structure, which has been stably maintained in all clone SA isolates derived from various hosts and times. These findings establish CPS as a key virulence factor for the induction of systemic infection and abortion in pregnant animals and provide a viable candidate for the development of vaccines against hypervirulent C. jejuni.


Campylobacter; abortion; bacteremia; capsule; sheep; systemic infection

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