Shigella: A model of virulence regulation in vivo

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Much is known about the molecular effectors of pathogenicity of gram-negative enteric pathogens, among which Shigella can be considered a model. This is due to its capacity to recapitulate the multiple steps required for a pathogenic microbe to survive close to its mucosal target, colonize and then invade its epithelial surface, cause its inflammatory destruction and simultaneously regulate the extent of the elicited innate response to likely survive the encounter and achieve successful subsequent transmission. These various steps of the infectious process represent an array of successive environmental conditions to which the bacteria need to successfully adapt. These conditions represent the selective pressure that triggered the “arms race” in which Shigella acquired the genetic and molecular effectors of its pathogenic armory, including the regulatory hierarchies that regulate the expression and function of these effectors. They also represent cues through which Shigella achieves the temporo-spatial expression and regulation of its virulence effectors. The role of such environmental cues has recently become obvious in the case of the major virulence effector of Shigella, the type three secretion system (T3SS) and its dedicated secreted virulence effectors. It needs to be better defined for other major virulence components such as the LPS and peptidoglycan which are used as examples here, in addition to the T3SS as models of regulation as it relates to the assembly and functional regulation of complex macromolecular systems of the bacterial surface. This review also stresses the need to better define what the true and relevant environmental conditions can be at the various steps of the progression of infection. The “identity” of the pathogen differs depending whether it is cultivated under in vitro or in vivo conditions. Moreover, this “identity” may quickly change during its progression into the infected tissue. Novel concepts and relevant tools are needed to address this challenge in microbial pathogenesis.

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