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Capsular Polysaccharide Phase Variation in Vibrio vulnificus

Hilton, Tamara, Rosche, Tom, Froelich, Brett, Smith, Benjamin, Oliver, James
Applied and environmental microbiology 2006 v.72 no.11 pp. 6986-6993
Vibrio vulnificus, aeration, agar, bacteria, biofilm, environmental factors, genotype, heart, immunocompromised population, iron, mortality, oxidative stress, oysters, phenotype, population growth, quorum sensing, temperature, virulence
Commonly found in raw oysters, Vibrio vulnificus poses a serious health threat to immunocompromised individuals and those with serum iron overload, with a fatality rate of approximately 50%. An essential virulence factor is its capsular polysaccharide (CPS), which is responsible for a significant increase in virulence compared to nonencapsulated strains. However, this bacterium is known to vary the amount of CPS expressed on the cell surface, converting from an opaque (Op) colony phenotype to a translucent (Tr) colony phenotype. In this study, the consistency of CPS conversion was determined for four strains of V. vulnificus. Environmental conditions including variations in aeration, temperature, incubation time, oxidative stress, and media (heart infusion or modified maintenance medium agar) were investigated to determine their influence on CPS conversion. All conditions, with the exception of variations in media and oxidative stress, significantly affected the conversion of the population, with high ranges of CPS expression found even within cells from a single colony. The global quorum-sensing regulators RpoS and AI-2 were also examined. While RpoS was found to significantly mediate phenotypic conversion, quorum sensing was not. Finally, 12 strains that comprise the recently found clinical (C) and environmental (E) genotypes of V. vulnificus were examined to determine their rates of population conversion. C-genotype strains, which are most often associated with infection, had a significantly lower rate of population conversion from Op to Tr phenotypes than did E-genotype strains (ca. 38% versus ca. 14%, respectively). Biofilm capabilities of these strains, however, were not correlated with increased population conversion.