Virulence factors of Yersinia pestis are overcome by a strong lipopolysaccharide response

Sara W. Montminy, Naseema Khan, Sara McGrath, Mitchell J. Walkowicz, Fiona Sharp, Joseph E. Conlon, Koichi Fukase, Shoichi Kusumoto, Charles Sweet, Kensuke Miyake, Shizuo Akira, Robert J. Cotter, Jon D. Goguen, Egil Lien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At mammalian body temperature, the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis synthesizes lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-lipid A with poor Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4)-stimulating activity. To address the effect of weak TLR4 stimulation on virulence, we modified Y. pestis to produce a potent TLR4-stimulating LPS. Modified Y. pestis was completely avirulent after subcutaneous infection even at high challenge doses. Resistance to disease required TLR4, the adaptor protein MyD88 and coreceptor MD-2 and was considerably enhanced by CD14 and the adaptor Mal. Both innate and adaptive responses were required for sterilizing immunity against the modified strain, and convalescent mice were protected from both subcutaneous and respiratory challenge with wild-type Y. pestis. Despite the presence of other established immune evasion mechanisms, the modified Y. pestis was unable to cause systemic disease, demonstrating that the ability to evade the LPS-induced inflammatory response is critical for Y. pestis virulence. Evading TLR4 activation by lipid A alteration may contribute to the virulence of various Gram-negative bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1066-1073
Number of pages8
JournalNature Immunology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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