Cholera epidemics caused by Vibrio cholerae El Tor O1 strains are typified by a large number of asymptomatic carriers who excrete vibrios but do not develop diarrhea. This carriage state was important for the spread of the seventh cholera pandemic as the bacterium was mobilized geographically, allowing the global dispersion of this less virulent strain. Virulence factors associated with the development of the carriage state have not been previously identified. We have developed an animal model of cholera in adult C57BL/6 mice wherein V. cholerae colonizes the mucus layer and forms microcolonies in the crypts of the distal small bowel. Colonization occurred 1 to 3 h after oral inoculation and peaked at 10 to 12 h, when bacterial loads exceeded the inoculum by 10- to 200-fold, indicating bacterial growth within the small intestine. After a clearance phase, the number of bacteria within the small intestine, but not those in the cecum or colon, stabilized and persisted for at least 72 h. The ability of V. cholerae to prevent clearance and establish this prolonged colonization was associated with the accessory toxins hemolysin, the multifunctional autoprocessing RTX toxin, and hemagglutinin/protease and did not require cholera toxin or toxin-coregulated pili. The defect in colonization attributed to the loss of the accessory toxins may be extracellularly complemented by inoculation of the defective strain with an isogenic colonization-proficient V. cholerae strain. This work thus demonstrates that secreted accessory toxins modify the host environment to enable prolonged colonization of the small intestine in the absence of overt disease symptoms and thereby contribute to disease dissemination via asymptomatic carriers.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases