Francisella noatunensissubsp.noatunensisreplicates within Atlantic cod (Gadus morhuaL.) leucocytes and inhibits respiratory burst activity

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Francisella noatunensis subsp. noatunensis, causing granulomatosis in cod, has been shown to reside within cod immune cells, mainly within monocytes and macrophages. In the present study, we analysed the ability of the bacterium to replicate within adherent cells isolated from head kidney by in vitro infection of leucocytes. Two different technical approaches for flow cytometry analyses were performed for detection of intracellular bacteria. The presence of the wild type was assessed after identification by intracellular binding of specific antibodies to the pathogen. The other way was to use green fluorescent protein (GFP) transformed bacterium for infection studies allowing direct measurements of fluorescence from infected cells. By both methods we found an increase in fluorescence in infected cells, verifying bacterial replication, both after 4 and 28 h post infection in leucocytes isolated from head kidney (HKL). The GFP transformed bacterium was similar to the wild type in growth and infectivity pattern, showing that it can be a valuable tool for further studies of infection routes and pathology. Further, F. noatunensis subsp. noatunensis was found to inhibit respiratory burst activity, a potent pathogen killing mechanism, in cod leucocytes, but not in such cells from salmon. Our findings may indicate that inhibition of respiratory burst during Francisella infection is a key to its intracellular existence. This strategy seems to be conserved through evolution as it is also observed during infections in higher vertebrates caused by bacteria within the Francisella genus. The results presented here, showing the intracellular existence of Francisella, its replication within leucocytes and the inhibitory effect on respiratory burst, strongly support that these factors contribute to disease and pathology in infected cod. The intracellular replication shown in the present study might contribute to explain the problems of obtaining protective vaccines against Francisella and effective antibiotic treatment of infected fish.

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