Edwardsiella ictaluri is an intracellular Gram-negative facultative pathogen causing enteric septicemia of catfish (ESC), a common disease resulting in substantial economic losses in the U.S. catfish industry. Previously, we demonstrated that several universal stress proteins (USPs) are highly expressed under in vitro and in vivo stress conditions, indicating their importance for E. ictaluri survival. However, the roles of these USPs in E. ictaluri virulence is not known yet. In this work, 10 usp genes of E. ictaluri were in-frame deleted and characterized in vitro and in vivo. Results show that all USP mutants were sensitive to acidic condition (pH 5.5), and EiΔusp05 and EiΔusp08 were very sensitive to oxidative stress (0.1% H2O2). Virulence studies indicated that EiΔusp05, EiΔusp07, EiΔusp08, EiΔusp09, EiΔusp10, and EiΔusp13 were attenuated significantly compared to E. ictaluri wild-type (EiWT; 20, 45, 20, 20, 55, and 10% vs. 74.1% mortality, respectively). Efficacy experiments showed that vaccination of catfish fingerlings with EiΔusp05, EiΔusp07, EiΔusp08, EiΔusp09, EiΔusp10, and EiΔusp13 provided complete protection against EiWT compared to sham-vaccinated fish (0% vs. 58.33% mortality). Our results support that USPs contribute E. ictaluri virulence in catfish.
Keywords: ESC; USP; mutation; stress; vaccine.