Variable virulence of biotype 3 Vibrio vulnificus due to MARTX toxin effector domain composition

Byoung Sik Kim, Hannah E. Gavin, Karla J.F. Satchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Vibrio vulnificus is an environmental organism that causes septic human infections characterized by high morbidity and mortality. The annual incidence and global distribution of this pathogen are increasing as ocean waters warm. Clinical strains exhibit variations in the primary virulence toxin, suggesting a potential for the emergence of new strains with altered virulence properties. A clonal outbreak of tilapia-associated wound infections in Israel serves as a natural experiment for the sudden emergence of a new V. vulnificus strain. The effector domain content of the multifunctional autoprocessing RTX (MARTX) toxin of the outbreak-associated biotype 3 (BT3) strains was previously shown to harbor a modification generated by recombination. The modification introduced an actin-induced adenylate cyclase effector domain (ExoY) and an effector domain that disrupts the Golgi organelle (DmX). Here, we report that the exchange of these effector domains for a putative progenitor biotype 1 toxin arrangement produces a toxin that slows the lysis kinetics of targeted epithelial cells but increases cellular rounding phenotypes in response to bacteria. In addition, replacing the biotype 3 toxin variant with the putative progenitor biotype 1 variant renders the resulting strain significantly more virulent in mice. This suggests that the exchange of MARTX effector domains during the emergence of BT3 generated a toxin with reduced toxin potency, resulting in decreased virulence of this outbreak-associated strain. We posit that selection for reduced virulence may serve as a route for this lethal infectious agent to enter the human food chain by allowing it to persist in natural hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00272-17
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Biotype 3
  • Cytotoxins
  • Mouse
  • Recombination
  • Vibrio vulnificus
  • Virulence factors


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