JOURNAL ARTICLE
RESEARCH SUPPORT, N.I.H., EXTRAMURAL
RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Virulence potential of Ehrlichia chaffeensis strains of distinct genome sequences.

Human monocytic ehrlichiosis, one of the most frequent life-threatening tick-borne zoonoses, is caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis that lacks endotoxin and peptidoglycan. While sequence polymorphisms in several genes in E. chaffeensis strains have been reported, global genomic divergence and biological differences among strains are unknown. The objectives of the present study were to compare the genome sequences of strains of E. chaffeensis and to examine the virulence potentials of the strains with defined genome sequences. Genomic DNA was extracted from purified E. chaffeensis strains Wakulla and Liberty, and comparative genome hybridization was performed using a densely tiled microarray of 147,027 chromosome positions of the E. chaffeensis strain Arkansas genome. The results revealed that 4,663 and 5,325 positions in the chromosomes of strains Wakulla and Liberty, respectively, were different from those in the chromosome of strain Arkansas, including three common major polymorphic chromosomal regions. Of various functional categories, the differences were most concentrated in genes predicted to encode cell envelope proteins. Of all the open reading frames (ORFs), 21 omp-1 (p28 gene) paralogs, nine genes encoding hypothetical proteins, two genes encoding ankyrin repeat proteins, and hemE contained the most differences. Several highly polymorphic ORFs were confirmed by sequencing. When the E. chaffeensis strains were inoculated into severe combined immunodeficiency mice, the order of the severity of clinical signs and the bacterial burden detected in mice was Wakulla > Liberty > Arkansas. Severe diffuse inflammation and granulomatous inflammation were evident in the livers of mice infected with strains Wakulla and Arkansas, respectively, but not in the livers of mice infected with strain Liberty. These results revealed distinct virulence phenotypes of E. chaffeensis strains with defined genome sequences.

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