Inactivation of the hmgA gene of Pseudomonas aeruginosa leads to pyomelanin hyperproduction, stress resistance and increased persistence in chronic lung infection

Microbiology (Reading). 2009 Apr;155(Pt 4):1050-1057. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.024745-0.


Clinical isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that hyperproduce a dark-brown pigment are quite often found in the lungs of chronically infected patients, suggesting that they may have an adaptive advantage in chronic infections. We have screened a library of random transposon insertions in P. aeruginosa. Transposon insertions resulting in the hyperproduction of a dark-brown pigment were found to be located in the hmgA gene, which putatively encodes the enzyme homogentisate-1,2-dioxygenase. Complementation studies indicate that hmgA disruption is responsible for the hyperproduction of pyomelanin in both laboratory and clinical isolates. A relationship between hmgA disruption and adaptation to chronic infection was explored and our results show that the inactivation of hmgA produces a slight reduction of killing ability in an acute murine model of lung infection. On the other hand, it also confers decreased clearance and increased persistence in chronic lung infections. Whether pyomelanin production is the cause of the increased adaptation to chronicity or just a side effect of hmgA inactivation is a question to be studied in future; however, this adaptation is consistent with the higher resistance to oxidative stress conferred in vitro by the pyomelanin pigment. Our results clearly demonstrate that hmgA inactivation leads to a better adaptation to chronic infection, and strongly suggest that this mechanism may be exploited in naturally occurring P. aeruginosa strains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology
  • Cystic Fibrosis / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing*
  • Heat-Shock Response*
  • Homogentisate 1,2-Dioxygenase / genetics*
  • Homogentisate 1,2-Dioxygenase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / microbiology
  • Lung Diseases / mortality
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • Melanins / biosynthesis*
  • Mice
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology
  • Pseudomonas Infections / mortality
  • Pseudomonas Infections / pathology
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology*
  • Up-Regulation*


  • Melanins
  • pyomelanin
  • Homogentisate 1,2-Dioxygenase