Cystic fibrosis is a widespread genetic disease that leads to progressive disability and early death. The principal cause of mortality and morbidity in CF patients is a progressive deterioration of the respiratory system caused by a chronic infection of the patients' lungs, mainly by the opportunistic bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. CF lung infections can be treated with antibiotics, however full clearance is not possible due to the protective environment of the CF lung and the adaptation of infective species to a persistent lifestyle. This presents serious challenges for the long-term chemotherapy of CF patients.
Adaptive P. aeruginosa
morphotypes include SCVs, slow-growing and strongly adherent variants that frequently arise in chronic lung infections. Because the appearance of SCVs correlates with poor lung function and antibiotic resistance, they have long been suspected of mediating the P. aeruginosa
persistence phenotype in CF infections.
In this study, the researchers characterized a signaling system in P. aeruginosa
called YfiBNR, mutations in which lead to the generation of SCV variants. Activation of YfiBNR resulted in increased levels of the signaling molecule c-di-GMP, which in turn triggered massive production of exopolysaccharides and drastically reduced growth rates, two hallmarks of SCV behavior. YfiN-mediated SCVs were shown to be highly resistant to macrophage phagocytosis, suggesting a role for the SCV phenotype in immune system evasion. Consistent with this, activation of YfiN significantly increased the persistence of P. aeruginosa
in long-term infections in a mouse model, establishing a firm causal link between SCV and persistence in chronic P. aeruginosa
The authors conclude that 'c-di-GMP has long been a key suspect in chronic behavior of bacterial pathogens. The finding that the c-di-GMP-mediated SCV phenotype confers a persistent advantage in mice provides the first direct evidence in favor of such a model. This study thus opens up new avenues to specifically counteract persistent infections.'