In vivo functional genomics of Pseudomonas aeruginosa for high-throughput screening of new virulence factors and antibacterial targets

Environ Microbiol. 2003 Dec;5(12):1294-308. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-2920.2003.00542.x.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a model for studying opportunistic pathogens that are highly resistant to most classes of antibiotics and cause chronic pulmonary infections. We have developed and adapted a multiplex polymerase chain reaction-based signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM) for high-throughput screening of a collection of 7968 P. aeruginosa mutants in a rat model of chronic respiratory infection. After three rounds of screening, a total of 214 mutants, representing transposition events into 148 open reading frames, were shown to be attenuated in lung infection and were retained for further analysis. As proof of concept supporting this technology, we identified 11 insertions in typical virulence genes such as those coding for pili implicated in motility, attachment and swarming, alginate synthesis and its expression, a mucus transcription regulator, extracellular enzymes such as alkaline protease, esterase and amino peptidase, a rhamnosyl surfactant transferase and a lipopolysaccharide glycosyl transferase. Detailed analysis of the 148 STM mutants, including seven auxotrophs, revealed insertions in 21 of the 26 known gene classes used to characterize sequenced bacterial genomes. We noted that at least 46% of STM mutants identified had insertions in hypothetical proteins or proteins of unknown function and that approximately 40% of all STM mutants had insertions in surface proteins including the outer membrane, the periplasm and the inner membrane. Interestingly, 11 STM mutants attenuated for lung infection were also identified in microarray and transcriptome for quorum sensing and mucoidy production. The remaining 130 mutants were systematically analysed for their capability to express fully known virulence factors. In addition, testing the ability of these mutants to infect alternative model host Drosophila melanogaster revealed 36 STM mutants defective in protease, twitching motility, swimming and swarming. Finally, we identified many genes, the activity of which in respiratory infection was not fully appreciated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / genetics
  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Biofilms
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Esterases / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Genome, Bacterial*
  • Genomics
  • Glucosyltransferases / genetics
  • Hexosyltransferases / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Movement
  • Mutagenesis, Insertional
  • Mutation
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / genetics
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity*
  • Rats
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology
  • Sigma Factor / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*
  • Virulence Factors / physiology*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • Membrane Proteins
  • MucC protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial
  • Sigma Factor
  • Virulence Factors
  • pseudomonas exoprotein A protein, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • exopolysaccharide, Pseudomonas
  • Glucosyltransferases
  • Hexosyltransferases
  • Esterases
  • Alkaline Phosphatase