Aim: To elucidate the genetic basis for the pronounced resistance that the oral pathogen, Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis), exhibits towards the cationic antimicrobial peptide, polymyxin B.
Methodology: A genetic screen of P. gingivalis clones generated by a Tn4400'-based random insertion mutagenesis strategy was performed to identify bacteria harboring novel genetic mutations that render P. gingivalis susceptible to killing by the cationic antimicrobial peptide, polymyxin B (PMB, 50 microg x mL(-1)).
Results: P. gingivalis (ATCC 33277) is unusually resistant to the cationic antimicrobial peptide, PMB at relatively high concentrations (200 microg x mL(-1)). Approximately 2,700 independent Tn4400'-derived mutants of P. gingivalis were examined for increased sensitivity to PMB killing at a relatively low dose (50 microg x mL(-1)). A single PMB-sensitive mutant was obtained in this phenotypic screen. We determined that the Tn4400' transposon was integrated into the gene encoding the lipid A 4'-phosphatase, PGN_0524, demonstrating that this insertion event was responsible for its increased susceptibility of this clone to PMB-dependent killing. The resulting mutant strain, designated 0524-Tn4400', was highly sensitive to PMB killing relative to wild-type P. gingivalis, and exhibited the same sensitivity as the previously characterized strain, 0524KO, which bears a genetically engineered deletion in the PGN_0524 locus. Positive ion mass spectrometric structural (MALDI-TOF MS) analyses revealed that lipid A isolates from 0524-Tn4400' and 0524KO strains displayed strikingly similar MALDI-TOF MS spectra that were substantially different from the wildtype P. gingivalis lipid A spectrum. Finally, intact 0524-Tn4400' and 0524KO mutant bacteria, as well as their corresponding LPS isolates, were significantly more potent in stimulating Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-dependent E-selectin expression in human endothelial cells relative to intact wild-type P. gingivalis or its corresponding LPS isolate.
Conclusion: The combined molecular evidence provided in this report suggests that PGN_0524, a lipid A 4'-phosphatase, is the sole genetic element conferring the ability of the periodontopathogen, P. gingivalis, to evade the killing activity of cationic antimicrobial peptides, such as PMB. These data strongly implicate PGN_0524 as a critical virulence factor for the ability of P. gingivalis to evade front-line host innate defenses that are dependent upon cationic antimicrobial peptide activity and TLR 4 sensing.
Keywords: P. gingivalis; antimicrobial peptide; lipid A phosphatase; lipopolysaccharide; polymyxin B; transposon.