Potential mechanisms of attenuation for rifampicin-passaged strains of Flavobacterium psychrophilum
Background Flavobacterium psychrophilum is the etiologic agent of bacterial coldwater disease in salmonids. Earlier research showed that a rifampicin-passaged strain of F. psychrophilum (CSF 259-93B.17) caused no disease in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss, Walbaum) while inducing a protective immune response against challenge with the virulent CSF 259–93 strain. We hypothesized that rifampicin passage leads to an accumulation of genomic mutations that, by chance, reduce virulence. To assess the pattern of phenotypic and genotypic changes associated with passage, we examined proteomic, LPS and single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) differences for two F. psychrophilum strains (CSF 259–93 and THC 02–90) that were passaged with and without rifampicin selection. Results Rifampicin resistance was conveyed by expected mutations in rpoB, although affecting different DNA bases depending on the strain. One rifampicin-passaged CSF 259–93 strain (CR) was attenuated (4 % mortality) in challenged fish, but only accumulated eight nonsynonymous SNPs compared to the parent strain. A CSF 259–93 strain passaged without rifampicin (CN) accumulated five nonsynonymous SNPs and was partially attenuated (28 % mortality) compared to the parent strain (54.5 % mortality). In contrast, there were no significant change in fish mortalities among THC 02–90 wild-type and passaged strains, despite numerous SNPs accumulated during passage with (n = 174) and without rifampicin (n = 126). While only three missense SNPs were associated with attenuation, a Ser492Phe rpoB mutation in the CR strain may contribute to further attenuation. All strains except CR retained a gliding motility phenotype. Few proteomic differences were observed by 2D SDS-PAGE and there were no apparent changes in LPS between strains. Comparative methylome analysis of two strains (CR and TR) identified no shared methylation motifs for these two strains. Conclusion Multiple genomic changes arose during passage experiments with rifampicin selection pressure. Consistent with our hypothesis, unique strain-specific mutations were detected for the fully attenuated (CR), partially attenuated (CN) and another fully attenuated strain (B17).