Yersinia pseudotuberculosis is a foodborne pathogen that is the ancestral strain to Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of Plague. Y. pseudotuberculosis invades a host through the intestinal epithelium. The bacteria resist mucosal innate immune defenses including antimicrobial chemokines and phagocytic cells, and replicate in local lymph nodes. They cause Tuberculosis-like symptoms, including necrosis of local tissue and granuloma formation. Like all bacteria, Y. pseudotuberculosis has a net negative charge, which contributes to its susceptibility to some cationic antimicrobial peptides. Y. pseudotuberculosis is able to reduce this negative charge by adding 4-amino-4-deoxy-L-arabinose (L-Ara4N) to the lipid A portion of lipopolysaccharide. The production and addition of the L-Ara4N is coded for by the pmrHFIJKLM (pmrF) operon. A previous study has shown that the Y. pseudotuberculosis pmrF operon is important for resistance against polymyxin, but is not important for virulence in mice. Several previous reports have shown a strong influence of growth temperature on resistance to antimicrobial peptides and pmrF expression in pathogenic Yersinia species, but these studies also suggest significant variability between species, and even between strains of individual species. In particular, the regulation of the Y. pseudotuberculosis pmrF operon and its effect on bacterial interactions with mucosa-associated antimicrobial chemokines and neutrophils is not understood. In these studies, we investigated the environmental influences on pmrF expression in Y. pseudotuberculosis. We found that the promoter activity of the pmrHFIJKLM operon is increased at lower temperatures (21ºC) and in the presence of human serum. A ΔpmrI mutant strain of Y. pseudotuberculosis defective for addition of L-Ara4N was found to be more susceptible to killing by the antimicrobial chemokine CCL28 compared to wild-type. This suggests that this gene is important in the bacterial defense against antimicrobial chemokines. However, when the ΔpmrI mutant strain was exposed to human neutrophils, there was a decrease in phagocytosis as compared to wild-type bacteria. Our results suggest that the regulation of L-Ara4N modifications in Yersinia is more complex than previously appreciated and varies between species. Addition of L-Ara4N to Y. pseudotuberculosis appears to enhance resistance to some antimicrobial peptides like CCL28 and promote greater phagocytic engulfment by neutrophils. These opposing effects may partly explain why there is no net apparent survival defect in mutants lacking the pmrF operon during infection.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Microbiology and Molecular Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, antimicrobial chemokine, phagocytosis, neutrophil, pathogenesis, immunology



Included in

Microbiology Commons