Investigations on mechanisms of survival and pathogenesis of Mycobacterium ulcerans in polymicrobial environments
CommitteeBenbow, Mark Eric
Seo, Keun Seok
Thornton, Justin A
Buruli ulcer disease (BUD) remains a ‘mysterious disease’ due to the unknown mode of M. ulcerans transmission and pathogenesis. To understand these, it is important to determine the reservoir of the organism in its natural environments, and stress response and interactions of M. ulcerans in its natural niche and during infection of a host. The major virulence factor of M. ulcerans is mycolactone, a lipid cytotoxin that is encoded on a giant plasmid pMUM001. Genetic analysis suggests that plasmid pMUM001 was acquired by M. ulcerans during evolution from its progenitor, M. marinum. Coincidental evolution of virulence hypothesis suggests that many microbes evolve to acquire traits to outcompete or overcome biotic and abiotic forces during their normal life cycle in the outside-host environment, which can confer virulence during infection of a human host. Hence in this study, we exposed M. ulcerans to selective abiotic forces such as UV, and dynamic oxygen and temperature conditions to determine their effect on M. ulcerans growth, and mycolactone and global gene expression. We also studied the role of mycolactone in determining polymicrobial interaction of M. ulcerans in its natural aquatic habitat by exposing mycolactone coated and uncoated slides in M. ulcerans endemic and non-endemic aquatic locations and determining differences in microbial community composition between them. Further, we studied quorum quenching ability of mycolactone against an opportunistic pathogen, S. aureus. The results obtained showed that exposure of M. ulcerans to abiotic stresses such as higher temperature and lower than optimal oxygen conditions modulate its global and mycolactone gene expression. Further, we also showed that mycolactone can impact overall microbial community structure in a polymicrobial environment in its natural, aquatic habitat. Mycolactone also effected virulence and quorum sensing in an opportunistic pathogen, S. aureus, without inhibiting its growth. These findings are important as they provide insight toward potential reservoirs or environmental niches which may harbor M. ulcerans and inform new potential mechanisms of pathogenesis. Further, our novel research of synergistic or antagonistic interactions within the complex polymicrobial communities colonizing skin and aquatic habitats is a powerful approach in determining M. ulcerans colonization efficiency, resiliency, and transmission mechanisms.