Background: Chlamydiaceae are a family of obligate intracellular pathogens causing a wide range of diseases in animals and humans, and facing unique evolutionary constraints not encountered by free-living prokaryotes. To investigate genomic aspects of infection, virulence and host preference we have sequenced Chlamydia psittaci, the pathogenic agent of ornithosis.
Results: A comparison of the genome of the avian Chlamydia psittaci isolate 6BC with the genomes of other chlamydial species, C. trachomatis, C. muridarum, C. pneumoniae, C. abortus, C. felis and C. caviae, revealed a high level of sequence conservation and synteny across taxa, with the major exception of the human pathogen C. trachomatis. Important differences manifest in the polymorphic membrane protein family specific for the Chlamydiae and in the highly variable chlamydial plasticity zone. We identified a number of psittaci-specific polymorphic membrane proteins of the G family that may be related to differences in host-range and/or virulence as compared to closely related Chlamydiaceae. We calculated non-synonymous to synonymous substitution rate ratios for pairs of orthologous genes to identify putative targets of adaptive evolution and predicted type III secreted effector proteins.
Conclusions: This study is the first detailed analysis of the Chlamydia psittaci genome sequence. It provides insights in the genome architecture of C. psittaci and proposes a number of novel candidate genes mostly of yet unknown function that may be important for pathogen-host interactions.