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Capsular polysaccharide (CPS) is a major virulence factor in Vibrio vulnificus, and encapsulated strains have an opaque, smooth (OpS) colony morphology, while nonencapsulated strains have a translucent, smooth (TrS) colony morphology. Previously, we showed that OpS and TrS parental strains can yield a third colony type, rugose (R), and that the resulting strains, with the OpR and TrR phenotypes, respectively, form copious biofilms. Here we show that while OpR and TrR strains both produce three-dimensional biofilm structures that are indicative of rugose extracellular polysaccharide (rEPS) production, OpR strains also retain expression of CPS and are virulent in an iron-supplemented mouse model, while TrR strains lack CPS and are avirulent. Chlorine resistance assays further distinguished OpR and TrR isolates as exposure to 3 μg/ml NaOCl eradicated both OpS and OpR strains, while both TrS and TrR strains survived, but at rates which were significantly different from one another. Taken together, these results further emphasize the importance of CPS for virulence of V. vulnificus and establish a correlation between CPS expression and chlorine sensitivity in this organism. Using reverse transcriptase PCR, we also identified a nine-gene cluster associated with both CPS and rEPS expression in V. vulnificus, designated the wcr (capsular and rugose polysaccharide) locus, with expression occurring primarily in R variants. The latter results set the stage for characterization of functional determinants which individually or collectively contribute to expression of multiple EPS forms in this pathogen. Copyright © 2008, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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Infection and Immunity

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