Yersinia--flea interactions and the evolution of the arthropod-borne transmission route of plague

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2012 Jun;15(3):239-46. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2012.02.003. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, is unique among the enteric group of Gram-negative bacteria in relying on a blood-feeding insect for transmission. The Yersinia-flea interactions that enable plague transmission cycles have had profound historical consequences as manifested by human plague pandemics. The arthropod-borne transmission route was a radical ecologic change from the food-borne and water-borne transmission route of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, from which Y. pestis diverged only within the last 20000 years. Thus, the interactions of Y. pestis with its flea vector that lead to colonization and successful transmission are the result of a recent evolutionary adaptation that required relatively few genetic changes. These changes from the Y. pseudotuberculosis progenitor included loss of insecticidal activity, increased resistance to antibacterial factors in the flea midgut, and extending Yersinia biofilm-forming ability to the flea host environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Insect Vectors / microbiology*
  • Plague / microbiology
  • Plague / transmission*
  • Siphonaptera / microbiology*
  • Yersinia pestis / pathogenicity*