Background: In patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), lung infection with mucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa strains overexpressing the exopolysaccaride alginate is preceded by colonization with nonmucoid strains. We investigated the kinetics, impact of environmental signals, and genetics of P. aeruginosa alginate expression in a mouse model and in patients with CF.
Methods: Using indirect immunofluorescence, microarray technology and real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction, we assessed alginate gene expression during aerobic and anaerobic growth of the nonmucoid strain PAO1 in vitro, in a mouse lung-infection model and in sputum specimens from patients with CF infected with nonmucoid or mucoid P. aeruginosa strains.
Results: Anaerobic conditions increased the transcription of alginate genes in vitro and in murine lungs within 24 h. Alginate production by PAO1 in murine lungs and by nonmucoid P. aeruginosa strains in patients with CF was reversible after in vitro culture under aerobic conditions. A subpopulation of P. aeruginosa clones revealing stable alginate production was detected in murine lungs 2 weeks after infection.
Conclusions: Anaerobiosis and lung infection rapidly induce alginate production by gene regulation in nonmucoid P. aeruginosa. This trait may contribute to early persistence, leading to chronic P. aeruginosa infection once stable mucoid strains are generated.