Microevolution of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to a chronic pathogen of the cystic fibrosis lung

Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2013;358:91-118. doi: 10.1007/82_2011_199.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the leading pathogen of chronic cystic fibrosis (CF) lung infection. Life-long persistance of P. aeruginosa in the CF lung requires a sophisticated habitat-specific adaptation of this pathogen to the heterogeneous and fluctuating lung environment. Due to the high selective pressure of inflamed CF lungs, P. aeruginosa increasingly experiences complex physiological and morphological changes. Pulmonary adaptation of P. aeruginosa is mediated by genetic variations that are fixed by the repeating interplay of mutation and selection. In this context, the emergence of hypermutable phenotypes (mutator strains) obviously improves the microevolution of P. aeruginosa to the diverse microenvironments of the CF lung. Mutator phenotypes are amplified during CF lung disease and accelerate the intraclonal diversification of P. aeruginosa. The resulting generation of numerous subclonal variants is advantegous to prepare P. aeruginosa population for unpredictable stresses (insurance hypothesis) and thus supports long-term survival of this pathogen. Oxygen restriction within CF lung environment further promotes persistence of P. aeruginosa due to increased antibiotic tolerance, alginate production and biofilm formation. Finally, P. aeruginosa shifts from an acute virulent pathogen of early infection to a host-adapted chronic virulent pathogen of end-stage infection of the CF lung. Common changes that are observed among chronic P. aeruginosa CF isolates include alterations in surface antigens, loss of virulence-associated traits, increasing antibiotic resistances, the overproduction of the exopolysaccharide alginate and the modulation of intermediary and micro-aerobic metabolic pathways (Hogardt and Heesemann, Int J Med Microbiol 300(8):557-562, 2010). Loss-of-function mutations in mucA and lasR genes determine the transition to mucoidity and loss of quorum sensing, which are hallmarks of the chronic virulence potential of P. aeruginosa. Metabolic factors that are positively selected in response to the specific environment of CF lung include the outer membrane protein OprF, the microaerophilic oxidase Cbb3-2, the blue copper protein azurin, the cytochrome c peroxidase c551 and the enzymes of the arginine deiminase pathway ArcA-ArcD. These metabolic adaptations probably support the growth of P. aeruginosa within oxygen-depleted CF mucus. The deeper understanding of the physiological mechanisms of niche specialization of P. aeruginosa during CF lung infection will help to identify new targets for future anti-pseudomonal treatment strategies to prevent the selection of mutator isolates and the establishment of chronic CF lung infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / physiology