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Molecular Epidemiology And Dynamics Of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Populations In Lungs Of Cystic Fibrosis Patients

Lars Jelsbak, Helle Krogh Johansen, Anne-Louise Frost, Regitze Thøgersen, Line E. Thomsen, Oana Ciofu, Lei Yang, Janus A. J. Haagensen, Niels Høiby, Søren Molin

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ABSTRACT The ability to establish lifelong persistent infections is a fundamental aspect of the interactions between many pathogenic microorganisms and their mammalian hosts. One example is chronic lung infections by the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. This infection process is associated with extensive genetic adaptation and microevolution of the infecting bacteria. Through investigations of P. aeruginosa populations and infection dynamics in a group of CF patients followed at the Danish CF Clinic in Copenhagen, we have identified two distinct and dominant clones that have evolved into highly successful colonizers of CF patient airways. A significant component of the evolutionary success of these two clones has been their efficient transmissibility among the CF patients. The two clones have been present and transmitted among different CF patients for more than 2 decades. Our data also suggest that the P. aeruginosa population structure in the CF patient airways has been influenced by competition between different clones and that the two dominant clones have been particularly competitive within the lungs, which may add to their overall establishment success. In contrast, we show that adaptive traits commonly associated with establishment of chronic P. aeruginosa infections of CF patients, such as transition to the mucoid phenotype and production of virulence factors, play minor roles in the ability of the two dominant clones to spread among patients and cause long-term chronic infections. These findings suggest that hitherto-unrecognized evolutionary pathways may be involved in the development of successful and persistent P. aeruginosa colonizers of CF patient lungs.