Host-specific serovars of Salmonella enterica often have large-scale chromosomal rearrangements that occur by recombination between rrn operons. Two hypotheses have been proposed to explain these rearrangements: (i) replichore imbalance from horizontal gene transfer drives the rearrangements to restore balance, or (ii) the rearrangements are a consequence of the host-specific lifestyle. Although recent evidence has refuted the replichore balance hypothesis, there has been no direct evidence for the lifestyle hypothesis. To test this hypothesis, we determined the rrn arrangement type for 20 Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi strains obtained from human carriers at periodic intervals over multiple years. These strains were also phage typed and analyzed for rearrangements that occurred over long-term storage versus routine culturing. Strains isolated from the same carrier at different time points often exhibited different arrangement types. Furthermore, colonies isolated directly from the Dorset egg slants used to store the strains also had different arrangement types. In contrast, colonies that were repeatedly cultured always had the same arrangement type. Estimated replichore balance of isolated strains did not improve over time, and some of the rearrangements resulted in decreased replicore balance. Our results support the hypothesis that the restricted lifestyle of host-specific Salmonella is responsible for the frequent chromosomal rearrangements in these serovars.
© 2011 Matthews et al.