Virulence-related comparative transcriptomics of infectious and non-infectious chlamydial particles.
Background: Members of the phylum Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular pathogens of humans and animals and have a serious impact on host health. They comprise several zoonotic species with varying disease outcomes and prevalence. To investigate differences in virulence, we focused on Chlamydia psittaci, C.abortus and Waddlia chondrophila. Most threatening is C.psittaci, which frequently infects humans and causes psittacosis associated with severe pneumonia. The closest relative of C.psittaci is C. abortus, which shares the vast majority of genes but less frequently infects humans, and causes stillbirth and sepsis. W.chondrophilais more distantly related, and occasional human infections are associated with respiratory diseases or miscarriage. One possible explanation for differences in virulence originate from species-specific genes as well as differentially expressed homologous virulence factors.
Results: RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) was applied to purified infectious elementary bodies (EBs) and non-infectious reticulate bodies (RBs) in order to elucidate the transcriptome of the infectious and replicative chlamydial states. The results showed that approximately half of all genes were differentially expressed. For a descriptive comparison,genes were categorised according to their function in the RAST database. This list was extended by the inclusion of inclusion membrane proteins, outer membrane proteins, polymorphic membrane proteins and type III secretion system effectors. In addition, the expression of fifty-six known and a variety of predicted virulence and immunogenic factors with homologs in C.psittaci, C.abortus and W.chondrophila was analysed. To confirm the RNA-Seq results, the expression of nine factors was validated using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Comparison of RNA-Seq and RT-qPCR results showed a high mean Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.95.
Conclusions: It was shown that both the replicative and infectious chlamydial state contained distinctive transcriptomes and the cellular processes emphasised in EBs and RBs differed substantially based on the chlamydial species. In addition, the very first interspecies transcriptome comparison is presented here, and the considerable differences in expression of homologous virulence factors might contribute to the differing infection rates and disease outcomes of the pathogens. The RNA-Seq results were confirmed by RT-qPCR and demonstrate the feasibility of interspecies transcriptome comparisons in chlamydia.