Researchers have discovered a novel mechanism in Salmonella that affects its virulence and its susceptibility to antibiotics by changing its production of proteins in a previously unheard of manner. This allows Salmonella to selectively change its levels of certain proteins to respond to inhospitable conditions.
Although the mechanism had not been recognized before, the scientists were intrigued to find evidence of a similar mechanism in all five kingdoms of life - animals, plants, fungi, protista, and monera.
The findings were published in Molecular Cell. The senior author of the study is Dr. Ferric C. Fang, professor of microbiology, laboratory medicine, and medicine at the University of Washington (UW). Fang also directs the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The lead author is William Wiley Navarre, who began the study as a postdoctoral fellow in the Fang lab and is now an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
Salmonella enters the gut when people eat contaminated food, and can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. Illness outbreaks and grocery recalls related to Salmonella are often in the news. Babies, young children, the elderly and people with cancer or HIV are especially prone to severe illness from Salmonella.
Salmonella is adaptable and can withstand many of the body's attempts to fight it. The bacteria live and multiply in a special compartment inside the cells of an infected person or animal. Salmonella can alter its physiology as it moves from a free-swimming life to its residence in a host cell. Salmonella's metabolism also changes over time to make use of the nutrients available in the host cell, and to survive damage from the build-up of oxidants and nitric oxide in the infected cell.
While screening mutant Salmonella that were resistant to a form of nitric oxide that normally stops the bacteria from dividing, Navarre, Fang and their research collaborators found mutations in two little-known genes. These are the closely linked poxA and yjeK genes. In a number of bacteria, these two genes are associated with a third gene that encodes the Bacterial Elongation Factor P, which is involved in protein production.
The researchers discovered that these three genes operate in a common pathway that is critical for the ability of the Salmonella bacteria to cause disease and resist several classes of antibiotics. Salmonella with mutations in either the poxA gene or the yjeK genes, the study noted, appear to be nearly identical and show similar changes in proteins involved in metabolism. Strains with mutations in both genes resemble the single mutant strains, an observation that suggests the two genes work in the same pathway.
The full text is available at www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-07/uow-mub072910.php.