Theses Doctoral

The Role of the Type VI Secretion System in the Adaptation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to the Lung

Fields, Blanche L.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative bacterium implicated in several clinical contexts. In its association with immunocompromised hosts including cystic fibrosis patients, P. aeruginosa is able to exploit the host immune response to acquire key factors essential to its adaptation. As such, key virulence factors including the Type III Secretion System (T3SS), initially essential in acute infection, is reduced in its significance in chronic colonization. On the contrary, other phenotypes are essential for the altered priorities in chronic colonization.

The signals of the host immune response initiating the phenotypic switch from the expression of acute virulence factors to chronic virulence factors have not been well defined. Additionally, the function of the type VI secretion system (T6SS), a protein secretion apparatus, in chronic infection has been well established. Clinical isolates obtained from acute and chronic P. aeruginosa infections suggested selective regulation of the T6SS, namely up regulation of the H3-T6SS in chronic infection. We used murine models of infection to understand the in vivo transcriptional regulation of the T6SS of PAO1. Itaconate, an anti-inflammatory metabolite generated by the host, selectively upregulated transcription of a H3-T6SS-associated locus, vgrG3.

Here we present evidence to show how the host immune response, namely metabolic changes in response to infection may be exploited to support the organism’s adaptation to the lung microenvironment. In the evaluation of such a phenotypic response notable in chronic infections, the Type VI Secretion System (T6SS) of P. aeruginosa is selectively regulated by a host-specific metabolic product, itaconate. While P. aeruginosa contains genetic clusters for three (H1-, H2-, and H3-T6SS) evolutionarily distinct T6SSs, we found the H3-T6SS to be up-regulated significantly (p<0.05) in the presence of this anti-inflammatory signal.

Characterization of this response reveals that itaconate induces metabolic stress in P. aeruginosa. In an acute pneumoniae mouse model, deletion of the H3-T6SS locus results in increased colonization of the murine lung. Analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from wild type and H3-T6SS null-infected mice reveals alterations in metabolic pathways including purine metabolism, carbon metabolism, and arginine biosynthesis. Overall our work outlines the H3-T6SS as a phenotypic response to metabolic stress induced by the host immune response, serving to mediate pathways essential in pathogenesis. Further understanding of such phenotypes as the T6SS implicated in chronic infection is essential in treatment interventions in the clinic.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Biological Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Prince, Alice
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 5, 2023