Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a pathogen that causes acute and chronic infections in a variety of hosts. The pathogenic potential of P. aeruginosa is strain-dependent. PA14 is a highly virulent strain that causes disease in a wide range of organisms, whereas PAO1 is moderately virulent. Although PA14 carries pathogenicity islands that are absent in PAO1, the presence or absence of specific gene clusters is not predictive of virulence. Here, we show that the virulent strain PA14 has an acquired mutation in the ladS gene. This mutation has a deleterious impact on biofilm, while it results in elevated type III secretion system (T3SS) activity and increased cytotoxicity towards mammalian cells. These phenotypes can be reverted by repairing the ladS mutation on the PA14 genome. The RetS/LadS/GacS signaling cascade is associated with virulence and the switch between acute and chronic infections. RetS is a sensor that down-regulates biofilm formation and up-regulates the T3SS. Mutations in retS are acquired in strains isolated from chronically infected cystic fibrosis patients and lead to hyperbiofilm formation and reduced cytotoxicity. Conversely, the LadS sensor promotes biofilm formation and represses the T3SS. We conclude that the ladS mutation is partly responsible for the high cytotoxicity of PA14, and our findings corroborate the central role of RetS and LadS in the switch between acute and chronic infections. Given the extensive use of the reference strain PA14 in infection and virulence models, the bias caused by the ladS mutation on the observed phenotypes will be crucial to consider in future research.
© 2011 Mikkelsen et al.