Heightened virulence of Yersinia is associated with decreased function of the YopJ protein

Chris A. Mares, Fernando P. Lugo, Mohammad Albataineh, Beth A. Goins, Irene G. Newton, Ralph R. Isberg, Molly A. Bergman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the maintenance of YopP/J alleles throughout the human-pathogenic Yersinia lineage, the benefit of YopP/J-induced phagocyte death for Yersinia pathogenesis in animals is not obvious. To determine how the sequence divergence of YopP/J has impacted Yersinia virulence, we examined protein polymorphisms in this type III secreted effector protein across 17 Yersinia species and tested the consequences of polymorphism in a murine model of subacute systemic yersiniosis. Our evolutionary analysis revealed that codon 177 has been subjected to positive selection; the Yersinia enterocolitica residue had been altered from a leucine to a phenylalanine in nearly all Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and Yersinia pestis strains examined. Despite this change being minor, as both leucine and phenylalanine have hydrophobic side chains, reversion of YopJF177 to the ancestral YopJL177 variant yielded a Y. pseudotuberculosis strain with enhanced cytotoxicity toward macrophages, consistent with previous findings. Surprisingly, expression of YopJF177L in the mildly attenuated ksgA2 background rendered the strain completely avirulent in mice. Consistent with this hypothesis that YopJ activity relates indirectly to Yersinia pathogenesis in vivo, ksgA2 strains lacking functional YopJ failed to kill macrophages but actually regained virulence in animals. Also, treatment with the antiapoptosis drug suramin prevented YopJ-mediated macrophage cytotoxicity and enhanced Y. pseudotuberculosis virulence in vivo. Our results demonstrate that Yersinia-induced cell death is detrimental for bacterial pathogenesis in this animal model of illness and indicate that positive selection has driven YopJ/P and Yersinia evolution toward diminished cytotoxicity and increased virulence, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00430-21
JournalInfection and immunity
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Pathogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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