High Nutrient Concentration Can Induce Virulence Factor Expression and Cause Higher Virulence in an Environmentally Transmitted Pathogen
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Environmentally transmitted opportunistic pathogens shuttle between two substantially different environments: outside-host and within-host habitats. These environments differ from each other especially with respect to nutrient availability. Consequently, the pathogens are required to regulate their behavior in response to environmental cues in order to survive, but how nutrients control the virulence in opportunistic pathogens is still poorly understood. In this study, we examined how nutrient level in the outside-host environment affects the gene expression of putative virulence factors of the opportunistic fish pathogen Flavobacterium columnare. The impact of environmental nutrient concentration on bacterial virulence was explored by cultivating the bacteria in various nutrient conditions, measuring the gene expression of putative virulence factors with RT-qPCR and, finally, experimentally challenging rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) fry with these bacteria. Our results show that increased environmental nutrient concentration can increase the expression of putative virulence genes, chondroitinase (cslA) and collagenase, in the outside-host environment and may lead to more rapid fish mortality. These findings address that the environmental nutrients may act as significant triggers of virulence gene expression and therefore contribute to the interaction between an environmentally transmitted opportunistic pathogen and its host.