Adaptation of bacterial pathogens to a host can lead to the selection and accumulation of specific mutations in their genomes with profound effects on the overall physiology and virulence of the organisms. The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa is capable of colonizing the respiratory tract of individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), where it undergoes evolution to optimize survival as a persistent chronic human colonizer. The transcriptome of a host-adapted, alginate-overproducing isolate from a CF patient was determined following growth of the bacteria in the presence of human respiratory mucus. This stable mucoid strain responded to a number of regulatory inputs from the mucus, resulting in an unexpected repression of alginate production. Mucus in the medium also induced the production of catalases and additional peroxide-detoxifying enzymes and caused reorganization of pathways of energy generation. A specific antibacterial type VI secretion system was also induced in mucus-grown cells. Finally, a group of small regulatory RNAs was identified and a fraction of these were mucus regulated. This report provides a snapshot of responses in a pathogen adapted to a human host through assimilation of regulatory signals from tissues, optimizing its long-term survival potential.
Importance: The basis for chronic colonization of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) by the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa continues to represent a challenging problem for basic scientists and clinicians. In this study, the host-adapted, alginate-overproducing Pseudomonas aeruginosa 2192 strain was used to assess the changes in its transcript levels following growth in respiratory CF mucus. Several significant and unexpected discoveries were made: (i) although the alginate overproduction in strain 2192 was caused by a stable mutation, a mucus-derived signal caused reduction in the transcript levels of alginate biosynthetic genes; (ii) mucus activated the expression of the type VI secretion system, a mechanism for killing of other bacteria in a mixed population; (iii) expression of a number of genes involved in respiration was altered; and (iv) several small regulatory RNAs were identified, some being mucus regulated. This work highlights the strong influence of the host environment in shaping bacterial survival strategies.