High virulence sub-populations in Pseudomonas aeruginosa long-term cystic fibrosis airway infections

Siobhán O'Brien, David Williams, Joanne L. Fothergill, Steve Paterson, Craig Winstanley, Michael A. Brockhurst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pseudomonas aeruginosa typically displays loss of virulence-associated secretions over the course of chronic cystic fibrosis infections. This has led to the suggestion that virulence is a costly attribute in chronic infections. However, previous reports suggest that overproducing (OP) virulent pathotypes can coexist with non-producing mutants in the CF lung for many years. The consequences of such within-patient phenotypic diversity for the success of this pathogen are not fully understood. Here, we provide in-depth quantification of within-host variation in the production of three virulence associated secretions in the Liverpool cystic fibrosis epidemic strain of P. aeruginosa, and investgate the effect of this phenotypic variation on virulence in acute infections of an insect host model. Results: Within-patient variation was present for all three secretions (pyoverdine, pyocyanin and LasA protease). In two out of three patients sampled, OP isolates coexisted with under-producing mutants. In the third patient, all 39 isolates were under-producers of all three secretions relative to the transmissible ancestor LESB58. Finally, this phenotypic variation translated into variation in virulence in an insect host model. Conclusions: Within population variation in the production of P. aeruginosa virulence-associated secretions can lead to high virulence sub-populations persisting in patients with chronic CF infections.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalBMC Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2017


  • Cystic fibrosis
  • LasA protease
  • Liverpool epidemic strain
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Public goods secretions
  • Pyocyanin
  • Pyoverdine
  • Virulence


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