Host Adaptation Predisposes Pseudomonas aeruginosa to Type VI Secretion System-Mediated Predation by the Burkholderia cepacia Complex

Cell Host Microbe. 2020 Oct 7;28(4):534-547.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2020.06.019. Epub 2020 Aug 4.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) species are opportunistic lung pathogens of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. While P. aeruginosa can initiate long-term infections in younger CF patients, Bcc infections only arise in teenagers and adults. Both P. aeruginosa and Bcc use type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) to mediate interbacterial competition. Here, we show P. aeruginosa isolates from teenage and adult CF patients, but not those from young CF patients, are outcompeted by the epidemic Bcc isolate Burkholderia cenocepacia strain AU1054 in a T6SS-dependent manner. The genomes of susceptible P. aeruginosa isolates harbor T6SS-abrogating mutations, the repair of which, in some cases, rendered the isolates resistant. Moreover, seven of eight Bcc strains outcompeted P. aeruginosa strains isolated from the same patients. Our findings suggest certain mutations that arise as P. aeruginosa adapts to the CF lung abrogate T6SS activity, making P. aeruginosa and its human host susceptible to potentially fatal Bcc superinfection.

Keywords: Burkholderia cepacia complex; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; cystic fibrosis; interbacterial competition; type VI secretion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Burkholderia Infections / microbiology
  • Burkholderia cepacia complex / isolation & purification
  • Burkholderia cepacia complex / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Coinfection / microbiology*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology
  • Host Adaptation / physiology*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Mutation
  • Pseudomonas Infections
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / isolation & purification
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Type VI Secretion Systems / genetics
  • Type VI Secretion Systems / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Type VI Secretion Systems