A virulence-associated filamentous bacteriophage of Neisseria meningitidis increases host-cell colonisation

PLoS Pathog. 2017 Jul 13;13(7):e1006495. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1006495. eCollection 2017 Jul.


Neisseria meningitidis is a commensal of human nasopharynx. In some circumstances, this bacteria can invade the bloodstream and, after crossing the blood brain barrier, the meninges. A filamentous phage, designated MDAΦ for Meningococcal Disease Associated, has been associated with invasive disease. In this work we show that the prophage is not associated with a higher virulence during the bloodstream phase of the disease. However, looking at the interaction of N. meningitidis with epithelial cells, a step essential for colonization of the nasopharynx, we demonstrate that the presence of the prophage, via the production of viruses, increases colonization of encapsulated meningococci onto monolayers of epithelial cells. The analysis of the biomass covering the epithelial cells revealed that meningococci are bound to the apical surface of host cells by few layers of heavily piliated bacteria, whereas, in the upper layers, bacteria are non-piliated but surrounded by phage particles which (i) form bundles of filaments, and/or (ii) are in some places associated with bacteria. The latter are likely to correspond to growing bacteriophages during their extrusion through the outer membrane. These data suggest that, as the biomass increases, the loss of piliation in the upper layers of the biomass does not allow type IV pilus bacterial aggregation, but is compensated by a large production of phage particles that promote bacterial aggregation via the formation of bundles of phage filaments linked to the bacterial cell walls. We propose that MDAΦ by increasing bacterial colonization in the mucosa at the site-of-entry, increase the occurrence of diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Female
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inovirus / physiology*
  • Meningococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Nasopharynx / microbiology
  • Neisseria meningitidis / growth & development
  • Neisseria meningitidis / pathogenicity*
  • Neisseria meningitidis / physiology
  • Neisseria meningitidis / virology*
  • Prophages / physiology
  • Virulence

Grants and funding

This study was supported by INSERM, CNRS, Université Paris Descartes and a grant from La Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (DMI20091117318). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.