Systems for Genetic Analysis in the Obligate Intracellular Pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis
Chlamydia trachomatis, a pathogen responsible for major diseases of significant clinical and public health importance, remains poorly characterized because of its intractability to molecular genetic manipulation. The development of a system(s) for genetic analysis would significantly accelerate our ability to identify genes that enable Chlamydia to establish infection, survive within its host, and cause disease. This thesis describes two methods used to assess gene function in Chlamydia and to provide insights into its biology and pathogenesis. The first method described is based on specific inhibitors and is used to probe the role of lipooligosaccharide (LOS), a main lipid components of bacterial outer membranes. Using this approach, we show that small molecule inhibitors of LpxC [UDP-3-O-(R-3-hydroxymyristoyl)-GlcNAc deacetylase], the enzyme that catalyzes the first committed step in the biosynthesis of lipid A, blocks the synthesis of LOS in C. trachomatis. In the absence of LOS, Chlamydia remains viable and establishes a pathogenic vacuole ("inclusion") that supports robust bacterial replication. However, bacteria grown under these conditions were no longer infectious. In the presence of LpxC inhibitors, replicative reticulate bodies accumulated in enlarged inclusions but failed to express selected late-stage proteins and transition to elementary bodies, a Chlamydia developmental form that is required for invasion of mammalian cells. These findings suggest the presence of an outer membrane quality control system that regulates Chlamydia developmental transition to infectious elementary bodies and highlights the potential application of LpxC inhibitors as unique class of anti-chlamydial agents.
The second part of this thesis describes the development of a system with which to perform forward genetics in C. trachomatis. Forward genetics approaches set out to identify the gene or set of genes that contributes to a specific biological process and usually entails generating random mutations in a large number of organisms, isolating mutants with an aberrant phenotype, and identifying the alleles associated with the mutant phenotype. In this approach, chemical mutagenesis is coupled with whole genome sequencing (WGS) and a system for DNA exchange within infected cells to generate Chlamydia mutants with distinct phenotypes, map the underlying genetic lesions, and generate isogenic strains. We identified mutants with altered glycogen metabolism, including an attenuated strain defective for Type II secretion. The coupling of chemically induced gene variations and WGS to establish genotype-phenotype associations should be broadly applicable to the growing list of microorganisms intractable to traditional genetic mutational analysis.
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