Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common bacterial infection of the human reproductive tract globally; however, the mechanisms underlying the adaptation of the organism to its natural target cells, human endocervical epithelial cells, are not clearly understood. To secure its intracellular niche, C. trachomatis must modulate the host cellular machinery by secreting virulence factors into the host cytosol to facilitate bacterial growth and survival. Here we used primary human endocervical epithelial cells and HeLa cells infected with C. trachomatis to examine the secretion of bacterial proteins during productive growth and persistent growth induced by ampicillin. Specifically, we observed a decrease in secretable chlamydial protease-like activity factor (CPAF) in the cytosol of host epithelial cells exposed to ampicillin with no evident reduction of CPAF product by C. trachomatis. In contrast, the expression of CopN and Tarp was downregulated, suggesting that C. trachomatis responds to ampicillin exposure by selectively altering the expression of secretable proteins. In addition, we observed a greater accumulation of outermembrane vesicles from C. trachomatis in persistently infected cells. Taken together, these results suggest that the regulation of both gene expression and the secretion of chlamydial virulence proteins is involved in the adaptation of the bacteria to a persistent infection state in human genital epithelial cells.
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