Open Access Open Badges Research article

Transcriptional pathways associated with the slow growth phenotype of transformed Anaplasma marginale

Sebastián Aguilar Pierlé*, Gena Kenitra Hammac, Guy H Palmer and Kelly A Brayton*

Author affiliations

Program in Genomics, Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, 99164-7040, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2013, 14:272  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-272

Published: 22 April 2013



The ability to genetically manipulate bacteria has been fundamentally important for both basic biological discovery and translational research to develop new vaccines and antibiotics. Experimental alteration of the genetic content of prokaryotic pathogens has revealed both expected functional relationships and unexpected phenotypic consequences. Slow growth phenotypes have been reported for multiple transformed bacterial species, including extracellular and intracellular pathogens. Understanding the genes and pathways responsible for the slow growth phenotype provides the opportunity to develop attenuated vaccines as well as bacteriostatic antibiotics. Transformed Anaplasma marginale, a rickettsial pathogen, exhibits slow growth in vitro and in vivo as compared to the parent wild type strain, providing the opportunity to identify the underlying genes and pathways associated with this phenotype.


Whole genome transcriptional profiling allowed for identification of specific genes and pathways altered in transformed A. marginale. Genes found immediately upstream and downstream of the insertion site, including a four gene operon encoding key outer membrane proteins, were not differentially transcribed between wild type and transformed A. marginale. This lack of significant difference in transcription of flanking genes and the large size of the insert relative to the genome were consistent with a trans rather than a cis effect. Transcriptional profiling across the complete genome identified the most differentially transcribed genes, including an iron transporter, an RNA cleaving enzyme and several genes involved in translation. In order to confirm the trend seen in translation-related genes, K-means clustering and Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA) were applied. These algorithms allowed evaluation of the behavior of genes as groups that share transcriptional status or biological function. Clustering and GSEA confirmed the initial observations and found additional pathways altered in transformed A. marginale. Three pathways were significantly altered as compared to the wild type: translation, translation elongation, and purine biosynthesis.


Identification of perturbed genes and networks through genome wide transcriptional profiling highlights the relevance of pathways such as nucleotide biosynthesis, translation, and translation elongation in the growth phenotype of obligate intracellular bacteria. These genes and pathways provide specific targets for development of slow growing attenuated vaccines and for bacteriostatic antibiotics.

Intracellular bacteria; Slow growth phenotype; Global transcription; Pathway analysis; RNA-seq; Rickettsiales; Anaplasma