Gravid mice and other rodents inoculated with Listeria monocytogenes typically fail to clear an intrauterine infection and either succumb or expel their intrauterine contents. We took advantage of this property to investigate the effects of an extrauterine infection on parameters of pregnancy success. Pregnant mice were selected for our study if they showed no clinical signs of listeriosis following oral inoculation at 7.5 gestational days (gd), and had no detectable intrauterine colony forming units (cfu) at near term (18.5 gd). The range of oral doses employed was 10?-10? cfu per mouse for two listerial serotype strains (4nonb and 1/2a). At all doses, inoculation resulted in a decrease in average near-term (18.5 gd) fetal weight per litter compared to sham inoculated controls. Additionally, embryonic death (indicated by intrauterine resorptions) was exhibited by some inoculated mice but was absent in all sham inoculated animals. In parallel experiments designed to detect possible loss of placental function, gravid uteruses were examined histopathologically and microbiologically 96 h after oral inoculation. Placental lesions were associated with high (> 10?), but not low (< 10²) or absent intrauterine cfu. In vitro, mouse embryonic trophoblasts were indistinguishable from mouse enterocytes in terms of their sensitivity to listerial exposure. A model consistent with our observations is one in which products (host or bacterial) generated during an acute infection enter embryos transplacentally and influences embryonic survival and slows normal growth in utero.
A Listeria monocytogenes glcV mutation precludes the binding of certain listerial phages and produces a profound attenuation characterized by the absence of detectable mutants in the livers and spleens of orally inoculated mice. In vitro, we found that the mutant formed plaques on mouse enterocyte monolayers as efficiently as the parent but the plaques formed were smaller. Intracellular growth rate determinations and examination of infected enterocytes by light and fluorescence microscopy established that the mutant was impaired not in intracellular growth rate but in cell-to-cell spreading. Because this property is shared by other immunogenic mutants (e.g., actA mutants), our glcV mutant was tested for vaccine efficacy. Oral immunization with the mutant and subsequent oral challenge (22 days postvaccination) with the parent revealed a ca. 10,000-fold increase in protection afforded by the mutant compared to sham-vaccinated controls. The glcV mutant did not stimulate innate immunity under the dose and route employed for vaccination, and an infectivity index time course experiment revealed pronounced mutant persistence in Peyers patches. The immunogenicity of the glcV mutant compared to an isogenic actA mutant reference strain was next tested in an experiment with a challenge given 52 days postvaccination. Both mutant strains showed scant vital organ infectivity and high levels of protection similar to those seen using the glcV mutant in the 22-day postvaccination challenge. Our results indicate that oral administration of a profoundly attenuated listerial mutant can safely elicit solid protective immunity.
Gravid mammals are more prone to listeriosis than their nongravid counterparts. However, many features of the disease in gravid animals are not well defined. We determined, in mice, that increased susceptibility to lethal infection following oral inoculation begins surprisingly early in pregnancy and extends through embryonic development. Pregnancy did not demonstrably increase the spread of listeriae from the intestine to the liver and spleen in the initial 96 h period post inoculation. Consequently, it appeared that gravid animals were competent to contain an enteric infection, but in those instances where escape did occur, a lethal outcome was more likely. Interestingly, colonic colonization level and prevalence, measured 96 h post inoculation, was significantly higher in gravid individuals. In terms of human risk factors for listeriosis, our results suggest that the window of listeriosis susceptibility afforded by pregnancy may be open longer than previously appreciated. Our results also suggest that while gravid animals are competent to contain an enteric infection, enteric carriage rate may be more of a factor in defining disease incidence than previously considered.
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