Small flies to tackle big questions: assaying complex bacterial virulence mechanisms usingDrosophila melanogaster

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A successful raid on a fortress requires ingenious strategies in addition to a large number of soldiers. When a microorganism faces a potential host many factors are important, including not only the capacity to proliferate but also the ability to hide, escape or subvert the defence arsenal of the infected organism. This ability confers microbial pathogenicity and relies on complex virulence mechanisms, which are tightly regulated during the course of the infection. The amazing versatility of some microbes that can infect a wide broad of hosts undoubtedly relies on virulence factors intent on fighting evolutionarily conserved innate immune mechanisms. This makes the use of alternative invertebrate models, which are of outstanding interest because they demand less ethical consideration and lower experimental costs, extremely relevant. These simpler organisms are used to analyse genes and mechanisms involved in resistance or tolerance to microorganisms. They can also be used to study bacterial virulence factors that allow proliferation or persistence in the host. In particular, the Drosophila fruit fly has a complex immune response (similar to the mammalian innate immune response) and is particularly appropriate for deciphering many events underlying bacterial pathogenicity from acute virulence to biofilm formation. As highlighted in this review, Drosophila has been notably extensively used to study virulence traits of the opportunistic bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, such as proliferation or persistence, translocation through an epithelial barrier, subversion of the phagocytic machinery, in vivo biofilm formation and enhanced virulence provided by commensal flora or a polymicrobial community. Moreover, these small flies now appear to be a useful system for assaying chemicals with therapeutic potential.

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