Background: A new hypervirulent (hypermucoviscous) clinical variant of Klebsiella pneumoniae (hvKP) has emerged over the last decade. Our goal is to identify new mechanisms, which increase the virulence hvKP compared to "classic" K. pneumoniae (cKP).
Methodology/principal findings: Various growth assays were performed in human ascites, human serum, and laboratory medium with the hvKP strain hvKP1 (wt), randomly chosen blood isolates of cKP strains (cKP1-4), and mutant constructs deficient in the secretion of selected compounds. An in vivo mouse model that mimics infection due to hvKP and a quantitative siderophore assay were also used. It was established that a molecule(s)/factor(s) was secreted by hvKP1 significantly enhanced its growth and/or survival in human ascites. This molecule(s)/factor(s) also increased the growth and/or survival of hvKP1 in serum ex vivo and in an in vivo mouse model that measures metastatic spread after subcutaneous challenge, thereby further establishing biologic significance. Although features such as a size of <3kD, heat stability, and growth characteristics in ascites suggested this molecule(s) was a quorum-sensing compound, data presented demonstrates that this molecule(s)/factor(s) is involved in iron uptake and is likely a siderophore(s) or another iron-acquisition molecule. Although it is known that iron acquisition is critical for virulence, a novel aspect of this observation is that hvKP1 produces quantitatively more siderophores that appear to be biologically more active (increased affinity for iron or more resistant to host factors) than those produced by cKP strains.
Conclusions/significance: The data presented delineates a new mechanism by which hvKP increases its pathogenic potential compared to cKP strains. This paradigm may be broadly applicable to other extraintestinal gram-negative bacilli.