Listeria monocytogenes adapts to long-term stationary phase survival without compromising bacterial virulence


Correspondence: E. Freitag, Department of Microbiology & Immunology (MC 790), University of Illinois at Chicago, 835 South Wolcott Ave., Chicago, IL 60612, USA. Tel.: +1 312 355 4903; fax: +1 312 996 6415; e-mail:


Bacteria withstand starvation during long-term stationary phase through the acquisition of mutations that increase bacterial fitness. The evolution of the growth advantage in stationary phase (GASP) phenotype results in the ability of bacteria from an aged culture to outcompete bacteria from a younger culture when the two are mixed together. The GASP phenotype was first described for Escherichia coli, but has not been examined for an environmental bacterial pathogen, which must balance long-term survival strategies that promote fitness in the outside environment with those that promote fitness within the host. Listeria monocytogenes is an environmental bacterium that lives as a saprophyte in soil, but is capable of replicating within the cytosol of mammalian cells. Herein, we demonstrate the ability of L. monocytogenes to express GASP via the acquisition of mutations during long-term stationary growth. Listeria monocytogenes GASP occurred through mechanisms that were both dependent and independent of the stress-responsive alternative sigma factor SigB. Constitutive activation of the central virulence transcriptional regulator PrfA interfered with the development of GASP; however, L. monocytogenes GASP cultures retained full virulence in mice. These results indicate that L. monocytogenes can accrue mutations that optimize fitness during long-term stationary growth without negatively impacting virulence.