Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Global transcriptional profiling of Burkholderia pseudomallei under salt stress reveals differential effects on the Bsa type III secretion system

Pornpan Pumirat12, Jon Cuccui2, Richard A Stabler2, Joanne M Stevens3, Veerachat Muangsombut1, Ekapot Singsuksawat1, Mark P Stevens3, Brendan W Wren2 and Sunee Korbsrisate1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok 10700, Thailand

2 Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK

3 Division of Microbiology, Institute for Animal Health, Compton, Berkshire RG20 7NN, UK

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:171  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-171

Published: 14 June 2010



Burkholderia pseudomallei is the causative agent of melioidosis where the highest reported incidence world wide is in the Northeast of Thailand, where saline soil and water are prevalent. Moreover, recent reports indicate a potential pathogenic role for B. pseudomallei in cystic fibrosis lung disease, where an increased sodium chloride (NaCl) concentration in airway surface liquid has been proposed. These observations raise the possibility that high salinity may represent a favorable niche for B. pseudomallei. We therefore investigated the global transcriptional response of B. pseudomallei to increased salinity using microarray analysis.


Transcriptome analysis of B. pseudomallei under salt stress revealed several genes significantly up-regulated in the presence of 320 mM NaCl including genes associated with the bsa-derived Type III secretion system (T3SS). Microarray data were verified by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reactions (RT-PCR). Western blot analysis confirmed the increased expression and secretion of the invasion-associated type III secreted proteins BipD and BopE in B. pseudomallei cultures at 170 and 320 mM NaCl relative to salt-free medium. Furthermore, salt-treated B. pseudomallei exhibited greater invasion efficiency into the lung epithelial cell line A549 in a manner partly dependent on a functional Bsa system.


B. pseudomallei responds to salt stress by modulating the transcription of a relatively small set of genes, among which is the bsa locus associated with invasion and virulence. Expression and secretion of Bsa-secreted proteins was elevated in the presence of exogenous salt and the invasion efficiency was enhanced. Our data indicate that salinity has the potential to influence the virulence of B. pseudomallei.