Phosphate Transporter PstSCAB of Campylobacter jejuni Is a Critical Determinant of Lactate-Dependent Growth and Colonization in Chickens

J Bacteriol. 2020 Mar 11;202(7):e00716-19. doi: 10.1128/JB.00716-19. Print 2020 Mar 11.


Campylobacter jejuni causes acute gastroenteritis worldwide and is transmitted primarily through poultry, in which it is often a commensal member of the intestinal microbiota. Previous transcriptome sequencing (RNA-Seq) experiment showed that transcripts from an operon encoding a high-affinity phosphate transporter (PstSCAB) of C. jejuni were among the most abundant when the bacterium was grown in chickens. Elevated levels of the pstSCAB mRNA were also identified in an RNA-Seq experiment from human infection studies. In this study, we explore the role of PstSCAB in the biology and colonization potential of C. jejuni Our results demonstrate that cells lacking PstSCAB survive poorly in stationary phase, in nutrient-limiting media, and under osmotic conditions reflective of those in the chicken. Polyphosphate levels in the mutant cells were elevated at stationary phase, consistent with alterations in expression of polyphosphate metabolism genes. The mutant strain was highly attenuated for colonization of newly hatched chicks, with levels of bacteria at several orders of magnitude below wild-type levels. Mutant and wild type grew similarly in complex media, but the pstS::kan mutant exhibited a significant growth defect in minimal medium supplemented with l-lactate, postulated as a carbon source in vivo Poor growth in lactate correlated with diminished expression of acetogenesis pathway genes previously demonstrated as important for colonizing chickens. The phosphate transport system is thus essential for diverse aspects of C. jejuni physiology and in vivo fitness and survival.IMPORTANCECampylobacter jejuni causes millions of human gastrointestinal infections annually, with poultry a major source of infection. Due to the emergence of multidrug resistance in C. jejuni, there is need to identify alternative ways to control this pathogen. Genes encoding the high-affinity phosphate transporter PstSCAB are highly expressed by C. jejuni in chickens and humans. In this study, we address the role of PstSCAB on chicken colonization and other C. jejuni phenotypes. PstSCAB is required for colonization in chicken, metabolism and survival under different stress responses, and during growth on lactate, a potential growth substrate in chickens. Our study highlights that PstSCAB may be an effective target to develop mechanisms for controlling bacterial burden in both chicken and human.

Keywords: Campylobacter jejuni; host-pathogen interactions; phosphate 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
  • Campylobacter Infections / veterinary*
  • Campylobacter jejuni / physiology*
  • Chickens / microbiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Mutation
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins / genetics*
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Poultry Diseases / microbiology*
  • Stress, Physiological


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Phosphate Transport Proteins
  • Phosphates
  • Lactic Acid