The sheathed flagellum of Brucella melitensis is involved in persistence in a murine model of infection


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Persistence infection is the keystone of the ruminant and human diseases called brucellosis and Malta fever, respectively, and is linked to the intracellular tropism of Brucella spp. While described as non-motile, Brucella spp. have all the genes except the chemotactic system, necessary to assemble a functional flagellum. We undertook to determine whether these genes are expressed and are playing a role in some step of the disease process. We demonstrated that in the early log phase of a growth curve in 2YT nutrient broth, Brucella melitensis expresses genes corresponding to the basal (MS ring) and the distal (hook and filament) parts of the flagellar apparatus. Under these conditions, a polar and sheathed flagellar structure is visible by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). We evaluated the effect of mutations in flagellar genes of B. melitensis encoding various parts of the structure, MS ring, P ring, motor protein, secretion apparatus, hook and filament. None of these mutants gave a discernible phenotype as compared with the wild-type strain in cellular models of infection. In contrast, all these mutants were unable to establish a chronic infection in mice infected via the intraperitoneal route, raising the question of the biological role(s) of this flagellar appendage.