Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium strain 798 has previously been shown to undergo phenotypic phase variation. One of the phenotypes expresses virulence traits such as adhesion, while the other phenotype does not. Phenotypic phase variation appears to correlate with the ability of this strain to cause persistent, asymptomatic infections of swine. A new method to detect cells in either phenotypic phase was developed using Evans Blue-Uranine agar plates. Using this new assay, rates of phenotypic phase variation were obtained. The rate of phase variation from non-adhesive to adhesive phenotype was approximately 10-4 per cell per generation while phase variation from the adhesive to the non-adhesive phenotype was approximately 10-6 per cell per generation. Two highly virulent S. Typhimurium strains, SL1344 and ATCC 14028, were also shown to undergo phase variation. However, while the rate from adhesive to non-adhesive phenotype was approximately the same as for strain 798, the non-adhesive to adhesive phenotype shift was 37-fold higher. Differential gene expression was measured using RNA-Seq. Eighty-three genes were more highly expressed by 798 cells in the adhesive phenotype compared to the non-adhesive cells. Most of the up-regulated genes were in virulence genes and in particular all genes in the Salmonella pathogenicity island 1 were up-regulated. When compared to the virulent strain SL1344, expression of the virulence genes was approximately equal to those up-regulated in the adhesive phenotype of strain 798. A comparison of invasive ability demonstrated that strain SL1344 was the most invasive followed by the adhesive phenotype of strain 798, then the non-adhesive phenotype of strain 798. The least invasive strain was ATCC 14028. The genome of strain 798 was sequenced and compared to SL1344. Both strains had very similar genome sequences and gene deletions could not readily explain differences in the rates of phase variation from non-adhesive to the adhesive phenotype.
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The authors thank Kevin Lange for assistance in preparing . This work was supported by a grant from the USDA, NRI: 2002-35201-12542.