Burkholderia pseudomallei as an Enteric Pathogen: Identification of Virulence Factors Mediating Gastrointestinal Infection

Infect Immun. 2020 Dec 15;89(1):e00654-20. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00654-20. Print 2020 Dec 15.


Burkholderia pseudomallei is a Gram-negative bacterium and the causative agent of melioidosis. Despite advances in our understanding of the disease, B. pseudomallei poses a significant health risk, especially in regions of endemicity, where treatment requires prolonged antibiotic therapy. Even though the respiratory and percutaneous routes are well documented and considered the main ways to acquire the pathogen, the gastrointestinal tract is believed to be an underreported and underrecognized route of infection. In the present study, we describe the development of in vitro and in vivo models to study B. pseudomallei gastrointestinal infection. Further, we report that the type 6 secretion system (T6SS) and type 1 fimbriae are important virulence factors required for gastrointestinal infection. Using a human intestinal epithelial cell line and mouse primary intestinal epithelial cells (IECs), we demonstrated that B. pseudomallei adheres, invades, and forms multinucleated giant cells, ultimately leading to cell toxicity. We demonstrated that mannose-sensitive type 1 fimbria is involved in the initial adherence of B. pseudomallei to IECs, although the impact on full virulence was limited. Finally, we also showed that B. pseudomallei requires a functional T6SS for full virulence, bacterial dissemination, and lethality in mice infected by the intragastric route. Overall, we showed that B. pseudomallei is an enteric pathogen and that type 1 fimbria is important for B. pseudomallei intestinal adherence, and we identify a new role for T6SS as a key virulence factor in gastrointestinal infection. These studies highlight the importance of gastrointestinal melioidosis as an understudied route of infection and open a new avenue for the pathogenesis of B. pseudomallei.

Keywords: Burkholderia pseudomallei; GI infection; melioidosis; virulence factors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion / genetics
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei / pathogenicity
  • Burkholderia pseudomallei / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / physiology
  • Gastroenteritis / microbiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Giant Cells / microbiology
  • Giant Cells / pathology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Melioidosis / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Type VI Secretion Systems
  • Virulence / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / genetics*


  • Type VI Secretion Systems
  • Virulence Factors