Vibrio vulnificus is a gram-negative bacterium that causes fulminating diseases in susceptible humans: septicemia after ingestion of oysters and wound infection from seawater. The major predisposing factor is iron overload. The mortality rates for septicemia and wound infection are 77% and 15%, respectively, and patients can die within 24 hours of contact with the bacteria. V. vulnificus is highly invasive and replicates rapidly in host tissues, leading to high numbers of bacteria and extensive tissue damage. Our use of subcutaneously inoculated, iron dextran-treated mice revealed extensive tissue damage that resembles human disease and differentiated virulent clinical strains from less virulent oyster strains. Virulent V. vulnificus replicated extremely rapidly in the mice and were resistant to PMNs. Our hypothesis is that the rapid growth rate of V. vulnificus in host tissues and resistance to host phagocytic defenses enable the bacteria to reach high numbers and cause tissue damage with multifactorial toxins. Our preliminary results have enabled the dissection of each of these factors in the animal model using genetic tools in use by us. We propose to continue to use a molecular genetic approach to identify virulence factors of V. vulnificus.
The specific aims are to: 1) Use a combination of signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM), PhoA fusion/insertion mutagenesis, and in vivo selection for complementation of naturally occurring attenuating mutations to identify virulence genes of V. vulnificus, 2) Use a marker plasmid with the iron dextran-treated mouse model to differentiate the effects of virulence genes on growth, killing, and damage, and use in vitro models to characterize the virulence phenotypes in more detail, and 3) Complete the molecular version of Koch's postulates for important virulence genes.
In aim 1 we will primarily use STM to obtain mutations in genes involved with rapid growth or evasion of PMNs. We will use PhoA fusion/insertion mutagenesis to identify genes encoding secreted proteins.
In aim 2 after differentiating effects of mutations on growth in versus killing by the host, we will characterize damage by examining histopathology and examine the interaction of vibrios with PMNs by infecting neutropenic mice. In vitro assays will involve analysis of auxotrophy, iron acquisition, complement resistance, PMN resistance, and cytotoxicity to cell culture. These studies will elucidate mechanisms of fulminating, invasive disease caused by V. vulnificus as related to rapid replication, evasion of defenses, and damage to host tissues.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BM-1 (05))
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Hall, Robert H
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University of Florida
Schools of Medicine
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Gulig, Paul A; Tucker, Matthew S; Thiaville, Patrick C et al. (2009) USER friendly cloning coupled with chitin-based natural transformation enables rapid mutagenesis of Vibrio vulnificus. Appl Environ Microbiol 75:4936-49
Brown, Roslyn N; Gulig, Paul A (2008) Regulation of fatty acid metabolism by FadR is essential for Vibrio vulnificus to cause infection of mice. J Bacteriol 190:7633-44
Gulig, Paul A; Bourdage, Keri L; Starks, Angela M (2005) Molecular Pathogenesis of Vibrio vulnificus. J Microbiol 43 Spec No:118-31