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High-Throughput Parallel Sequencing to Measure Fitness of Leptospira interrogans Transposon Insertion Mutants during Acute Infection


Pathogenic species of Leptospira are the causative agents of leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease that causes mortality and morbidity worldwide. The understanding of the virulence mechanisms of Leptospira spp is still at an early stage due to the limited number of genetic tools available for this microorganism. The development of random transposon mutagenesis in pathogenic strains a decade ago has contributed to the identification of several virulence factors. In this study, we used the transposon sequencing (Tn-Seq) technique, which combines transposon mutagenesis with massive parallel sequencing, to study the in vivo fitness of a pool of Leptospira interrogans mutants. We infected hamsters with a pool of 42 mutants (input pool), which included control mutants with insertions in four genes previously analyzed by virulence testing (loa22, ligB, flaA1, and lic20111) and 23 mutants with disrupted signal transduction genes. We quantified the mutants in different tissues (blood, kidney and liver) at 4 days post-challenge by high-throughput sequencing and compared the frequencies of mutants recovered from tissues to their frequencies in the input pool. Control mutants that were less fit in the Tn-Seq experiment were attenuated for virulence when tested separately in the hamster model of lethal leptospirosis. Control mutants with unaltered fitness were as virulent as the wild-type strain. We identified two mutants with the transposon inserted in the same putative adenylate/guanylate cyclase gene (lic12327) that had reduced in vivo fitness in blood, kidney and liver. Both lic12327 mutants were attenuated for virulence when tested individually in hamsters. Growth of the control mutants and lic12327 mutants in culture medium were similar to that of the wild-type strain. These results demonstrate the feasibility of screening large pools of L. interrogans transposon mutants for those with altered fitness, and potentially attenuated virulence, by transposon sequencing.

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