Resident Microbiome Disruption with Antibiotics Enhances Virulence of a Colonizing Pathogen
Thomason, Courtney A.
Belden, Lisa K.
Hawley, Dana M.
MetadataShow full item record
There is growing evidence that symbiotic microbes play key roles in host defense, but less is known about how symbiotic microbes mediate pathogen-induced damage to hosts. Here, we use a natural wildlife disease system, house finches and the conjunctival bacterial pathogen Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), to experimentally examine the impact of the ocular microbiome on host damage and pathogen virulence factors during infection. We disrupted the ocular bacterial community of healthy finches using an antibiotic that MG is intrinsically resistant to, then inoculated antibiotic and sham-treated birds with MG. House finches with antibiotic-disrupted ocular microbiomes had more severe MG-induced conjunctival inflammation than birds with unaltered microbiomes, even after accounting for differences in conjunctival MG load. Furthermore, MG cultures from finches with disrupted microbiomes had increased sialidase enzyme and cytadherence activity, traits associated with enhanced virulence in Mycoplasmas, relative to isolates from sham-treated birds. Variation in sialidase activity and cytadherence among isolates was tightly linked with degree of tissue inflammation in hosts, supporting the consideration of these traits as virulence factors in this system. Overall, our results suggest that microbial dysbiosis can result in enhanced virulence of colonizing pathogens, with critical implications for the health of wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.