Little is known about the virulence factors of Burkholderia mallei, the etiologic agent of glanders. We employed subtractive hybridization to identify genetic determinants present in B. mallei but not in Burkholderia thailandensis, a non-pathogenic soil microbe. Three subtractive hybridization products were mapped to a genetic locus encoding proteins involved in the biosynthesis, export and translocation of a capsular polysaccharide. We identified an insertion sequence (IS 407 A) at one end of the capsule gene cluster and demonstrated that it was functional in B. mallei. Mutations were introduced in the B. mallei capsular gene cluster and the corresponding mutants were examined for their reactivity with antibodies raised against Burkholderia pseudomallei surface polysaccharides by immunoblotting and ELISA. Immunogold electron microscopy demonstrated the presence of a capsule on the surface of B. mallei ATCC 23344 (parental strain) but not on B. mallei DD3008 (capsule mutant) or B. thailandensis. Surprisingly, B. thailandensis also harboured a portion of the capsule gene cluster. ATCC 23344 was highly virulent in hamsters and mice, but DD3008 was avirulent in both animal models. The results presented here demonstrate that the capsular polysaccharide of B. mallei is required for production of disease in two animal models of glanders infection and is a major virulence factor.
Copyright 2001 Crown Copyright.