Impact of Active Metabolism on Chlamydia trachomatis Elementary Body Transcript Profile and Infectivity

J Bacteriol. 2018 Jun 25;200(14):e00065-18. doi: 10.1128/JB.00065-18. Print 2018 Jul 15.


Bacteria of the genus Chlamydia include the significant human pathogens Chlamydia trachomatis and C. pneumoniae All chlamydiae are obligate intracellular parasites that depend on infection of a host cell and transition through a biphasic developmental cycle. Following host cell invasion by the infectious elementary body (EB), the pathogen transitions to the replicative but noninfectious reticulate body (RB). Differentiation of the RB back to the EB is essential to generate infectious progeny. While the EB form has historically been regarded as metabolically inert, maintenance of infectivity during incubation with specific nutrients has revealed active maintenance of the infectious phenotype. Using transcriptome sequencing, we show that the transcriptome of extracellular EBs incubated under metabolically stimulating conditions does not cluster with germinating EBs but rather with the transcriptome of EBs isolated directly from infected cells. In addition, the transcriptional profile of the extracellular metabolizing EBs more closely resembled that of EB production than germination. Maintenance of infectivity of extracellular EBs was achieved by metabolizing chemically diverse compounds, including glucose 6-phosphate, ATP, and amino acids, all of which can be found in extracellular environments, including mucosal secretions. We further show that the EB cell type actively maintains infectivity in the inclusion after terminal differentiation. Overall, these findings contribute to the emerging understanding that the EB cell form is actively maintained through metabolic processes after terminal differentiation to facilitate prolonged infectivity within the inclusion and under host cell free conditions, for example, following deposition at mucosal surfaces.IMPORTANCE Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular Gram-negative bacteria that are responsible for a wide range of diseases in both animal and human hosts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. trachomatis is the most frequently reported sexually transmitted infection in the United States, costing the American health care system nearly $2.4 billion annually. Every year, there are over 4 million new cases of Chlamydia infections in the United States and an estimated 100 million cases worldwide. To cause disease, Chlamydia must successfully complete its complex biphasic developmental cycle, alternating between an infectious cell form (EB) specialized for initiating entry into target cells and a replicative form (RB) specialized for creating and maintaining the intracellular replication niche. The EB cell form has historically been considered metabolically quiescent, a passive entity simply waiting for contact with a host cell to initiate the next round of infection. Recent studies and data presented here demonstrate that the EB maintains its infectious phenotype by actively metabolizing a variety of nutrients. Therefore, the EB appears to have an active role in chlamydial biology, possibly within multiple environments, such as mucosal surfaces, fomites, and inside the host cell after formation.

Keywords: Chlamydia; Chlamydia trachomatis; gene expression; intracellular bacteria; intracellular parasites; metabolism.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Line
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / genetics
  • Chlamydia trachomatis / metabolism*
  • Cytoplasm
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / physiology
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Mice
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Transcriptome*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Bacterial