Characterization of Aeromonas hydrophila wound pathotypes by comparative genomic and functional analyses of virulence genes.
Aeromonas hydrophila has increasingly been implicated as a virulent and antibiotic-resistant etiologic agent in various human diseases. In a previously published case report, we described a subject with a polymicrobial wound infection that included a persistent and aggressive strain of A. hydrophila (E1), as well as a more antibiotic-resistant strain of A. hydrophila (E2). To better understand the differences between pathogenic and environmental strains of A. hydrophila, we conducted comparative genomic and functional analyses of virulence-associated genes of these two wound isolates (E1 and E2), the environmental type strain A. hydrophila ATCC 7966(T), and four other isolates belonging to A. aquariorum, A. veronii, A. salmonicida, and A. caviae. Full-genome sequencing of strains E1 and E2 revealed extensive differences between the two and strain ATCC 7966(T). The more persistent wound infection strain, E1, harbored coding sequences for a cytotoxic enterotoxin (Act), a type 3 secretion system (T3SS), flagella, hemolysins, and a homolog of exotoxin A found in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Corresponding phenotypic analyses with A. hydrophila ATCC 7966(T) and SSU as reference strains demonstrated the functionality of these virulence genes, with strain E1 displaying enhanced swimming and swarming motility, lateral flagella on electron microscopy, the presence of T3SS effector AexU, and enhanced lethality in a mouse model of Aeromonas infection. By combining sequence-based analysis and functional assays, we characterized an A. hydrophila pathotype, exemplified by strain E1, that exhibited increased virulence in a mouse model of infection, likely because of encapsulation, enhanced motility, toxin secretion, and cellular toxicity.