Cholera is a severe diarrheal disease typically caused by O1 serogroup strains of Vibrio cholerae. The pathogenicity of all pandemic V. cholerae O1 strains relies on two critical virulence factors: cholera toxin, a potent enterotoxin, and toxin coregulated pilus (TCP), an intestinal colonization factor. However, certain non-O1, non-O139 V. cholerae strains, such as AM-19226, do not produce cholera toxin or TCP, yet they still cause severe diarrhea. The molecular basis for the pathogenicity of non-O1, non-O139 V. cholerae has not been extensively characterized, but many of these strains encode related type III secretion systems (TTSSs). Here, we used infant rabbits to assess the contribution of the TTSS to non-O1, non-O139 V. cholerae pathogenicity. We found that all animals infected with wild-type AM-19226 developed severe diarrhea even more rapidly than rabbits infected with V. cholerae O1. Unlike V. cholerae O1 strains, which do not damage the intestinal epithelium in rabbits or humans, AM-19226 caused marked disruptions of the epithelial surface in the rabbit small intestine. TTSS proved to be essential for AM-19226 virulence in infant rabbits; an AM-19226 derivative deficient for TTSS did not elicit diarrhea, colonize the intestine, or induce pathological changes in the intestine. Deletion of either one of the two previously identified or two newly identified AM-19226 TTSS effectors reduced but did not eliminate AM-19226 pathogenicity, suggesting that at least four effectors contribute to this strain's virulence. In aggregate, our results suggest that the TTSS-dependent virulence in non-O1, non-O139 V. cholerae represents a new type of diarrheagenic mechanism. IMPORTANCE: Cholera, which is caused by Vibrio cholerae, is an important cause of diarrheal disease in many developing countries. The mechanisms of virulence of nonpandemic strains that can cause a diarrheal illness are poorly understood. AM-19226, like several other pathogenic, nonpandemic V. cholerae strains, carries genes that encode a type III secretion system (TTSS), but not cholera toxin (CT) or toxin coregulated pilus (TCP). In this study, we used infant rabbits to study AM-19226 virulence. Infant rabbits orally inoculated with this strain rapidly developed a fatal diarrheal disease, which was accompanied by marked disruptions of the intestinal epithelium. This strain's TTSS proved essential for its pathogenicity, and there was no diarrhea, intestinal pathology, or colonization in rabbits infected with a TTSS mutant. The effector proteins translocated by the TTSS all appear to contribute to AM-19226 virulence. Thus, our study provides insight into in vivo mechanisms by which a novel TTSS contributes to diarrheal disease caused by nonpandemic strains of V. cholerae.
ASJC Scopus subject areas