Trichomonas vaginalis can host the endosymbiont Mycoplasma hominis, an opportunistic pathogenic bacterium capable of modulating T. vaginalis pathobiology. Recently, a new noncultivable mycoplasma, "Candidatus Mycoplasma girerdii," has been shown to be closely associated with women affected by trichomoniasis, suggesting a biological association. Although several features of "Ca. M. girerdii" have been investigated through genomic analysis, the nature of the potential T. vaginalis-"Ca. M. girerdii" consortium and its impact on the biology and pathogenesis of both microorganisms have not yet been explored. Here, we investigate the association between "Ca. M. girerdii" and T. vaginalis isolated from patients affected by trichomoniasis, demonstrating their intracellular localization. By using an in vitro model system based on single- and double-Mycoplasma infection of Mycoplasma-free isogenic T. vaginalis, we investigated the ability of the protist to establish a relationship with the bacteria and impact T. vaginalis growth. Our data indicate likely competition between M. hominis and "Ca. M. girerdii" while infecting trichomonad cells. Comparative dual-transcriptomics data showed major shifts in parasite gene expression in response to the presence of Mycoplasma, including genes associated with energy metabolism and pathogenesis. Consistent with the transcriptomics data, both parasite-mediated hemolysis and binding to host epithelial cells were significantly upregulated in the presence of either Mycoplasma species. Taken together, these results support a model in which this microbial association could modulate the virulence of T. vaginalis. IMPORTANCE T. vaginalis and M. hominis form a unique case of endosymbiosis that modulates the parasite's pathobiology. Recently, a new nonculturable mycoplasma species ("Candidatus Mycoplasma girerdii") has been described as closely associated with the protozoon. Here, we report the characterization of this endosymbiotic relationship. Clinical isolates of the parasite demonstrate that mycoplasmas are common among trichomoniasis patients. The relationships are studied by devising an in vitro system of single and/or double infections in isogenic protozoan recipients. Comparative growth experiments and transcriptomics data demonstrate that the composition of different microbial consortia influences the growth of the parasite and significantly modulates its transcriptomic profile, including metabolic enzymes and virulence genes such as adhesins and pore-forming proteins. The data on modulation from RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) correlated closely with those of the cytopathic effect and adhesion to human target cells. We propose the hypothesis that the presence and the quantitative ratios of endosymbionts may contribute to modulating protozoan virulence. Our data highlight the importance of considering pathogenic entities as microbial ecosystems, reinforcing the importance of the development of integrated diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: Mycoplasma girerdii; Mycoplasma hominis; Trichomonas vaginalis; gene expression; pathogenicity; pathogroups; symbiosis.