Brucella melitensis Rev.1 is the live attenuated Elberg-originated vaccine strain of the facultative intracellular Brucella species, and is widely used to control brucellosis in small ruminants. However, Rev.1 may cause abortions in small ruminants that have been vaccinated during the last trimester of gestation, it is pathogenic to humans, and it induces antibodies directed at the O-polysaccharide (O-PS) of the smooth lipopolysaccharide, thus making it difficult to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals. Rough Brucella strains, which lack O-PS and are considered less pathogenic, have been introduced to address these drawbacks; however, as Rev.1 confers a much better immunity than the rough mutants, it is still considered the reference vaccine for the prophylaxis of brucellosis in small ruminants. Therefore, developing an improved vaccine strain, which lacks the Rev.1 drawbacks, is a highly evaluated task, which requires a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the virulence attenuation of Rev.1 smooth strains and of natural Rev.1 rough strains, which are currently only partly understood. As the acidification of the Brucella-containing vacuole during the initial stages of infection is crucial for their survival, identifying the genes that contribute to their survival in an acidic environment versus a normal environment will greatly assist our understanding of the molecular pathogenic mechanisms and the attenuated virulence of the Rev.1 strain. Here, we compared the transcriptomes of the smooth and natural rough Rev.1 strains, each grown under either normal or acidic conditions. We found 12 key genes that are significantly downregulated in the Rev.1 rough strains under normal pH, as compared with Rev.1 smooth strains, and six highly important genes that are significantly upregulated in the smooth strains under acidic conditions, as compared with Rev.1 rough strains. All 18 differentially expressed genes are associated with bacterial virulence and survival and may explain the attenuated virulence of the rough Rev.1 strains versus smooth Rev.1 strains, thus providing new insights into the virulence attenuation mechanisms of Brucella. These highly important candidate genes may facilitate the design of new and improved brucellosis vaccines.
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