Random insertional mutagenesis of Leptospira interrogans, the agent of leptospirosis, using a mariner transposon.

Laboratoire des Spirochètes, Institut Pasteur, 28 rue du docteur Roux, 75724 Paris Cedex 15, France.
Journal of Bacteriology (Impact Factor: 2.69). 06/2005; 187(9):3255-8. DOI: 10.1128/JB.187.9.3255-3258.2005
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The recent availability of the complete genome sequences of Leptospira interrogans, the agent of leptospirosis, has allowed the identification of several putative virulence factors. However, to our knowledge, attempts to carry out gene transfer in pathogenic Leptospira spp. have failed so far. In this study, we show that the Himar1 mariner transposon permits random mutagenesis in the pathogen L. interrogans. We have identified genes that have been interrupted by Himar1 insertion in 35 L. interrogans mutants. This approach of transposon mutagenesis will be useful for understanding the spirochetal physiology and the pathogenic mechanisms of Leptospira, which remain largely unknown.

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    ABSTRACT: Leptospira (L.) interrogans are bacteria responsible for a worldwide reemerging zoonosis. Some animals asymptomatically carry L. interrogans in their kidneys and excrete bacteria in their urine, which contaminates the environment. Humans are infected through skin contact with leptospires and develop mild to severe leptospirosis. Previous attempts to construct fluorescent or bioluminescent leptospires, which would permit in vivo visualization and investigation of host defense mechanisms during infection, have been unsuccessful. Using a firefly luciferase cassette and random transposition tools, we constructed bioluminescent chromosomal transformants in saprophytic and pathogenic leptospires. The kinetics of leptospiral dissemination in mice, after intraperitoneal inoculation with a pathogenic transformant, was tracked by bioluminescence using live imaging. For infective doses of 106 to 107 bacteria, we observed dissemination and exponential growth of leptospires in the blood, followed by apparent clearance of bacteria. However, with 2×108 bacteria, the septicemia led to the death of mice within 3 days post-infection. In surviving mice, one week after infection, pathogenic leptospires reemerged only in the kidneys, where they multiplied and reached a steady state, leading to a sustained chronic renal infection. These experiments reveal that a fraction of the leptospiral population escapes the potent blood defense, and colonizes a defined number of niches in the kidneys, proportional to the infective dose. Antibiotic treatments failed to eradicate leptospires that colonized the kidneys, although they were effective against L. interrogans if administered before or early after infection. To conclude, mice infected with bioluminescent L. interrogans proved to be a novel model to study both acute and chronic leptospirosis, and revealed that, in the kidneys, leptospires are protected from antibiotics. These bioluminescent leptospires represent a powerful new tool to challenge mice treated with drugs or vaccines, and test the survival, dissemination, and transmission of leptospires between environment and hosts.
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