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Keywords:

  • antivirulence genes;
  • black holes;
  • pathoadaptive mutation;
  • Shigella

Abstract

The evolution of bacterial pathogens from nonpathogenic ancestors is marked principally by the acquisition of virulence gene clusters on plasmids and pathogenicity islands via horizontal gene transfer. The flip side of this evolutionary force is the equally important adaptation of the newly minted pathogen to its new host niche. Pathoadaptive mutations take the form of modification of gene expression such that the pathogen is better fit to survive within the new niche. This mini-review describes the concept of pathoadaptation by loss of gene function. In this process, genes that are no longer compatible with the novel lifestyle of the pathogen are selectively inactivated either by point mutation, insertion, or deletion. These genes are called ‘antivirulence genes’. Selective pressure sometimes leads to the deletion of large regions of the genome that contain antivirulence genes generating ‘black holes’ in the pathogen genome. Inactivation of antivirulence genes leads to a pathogen that is highly adapted to its host niche. Identification of antivirulence genes for a particular pathogen can lead to a better understanding of how it became a pathogen and the types of genetic traits that need to be silenced in order for the pathogen to colonize its new host niche successfully.