Comparative Transcriptomic Profiling of Yersinia enterocolitica O:3 and O:8 Reveals Major Expression Differences of Fitness- and Virulence-Relevant Genes Indicating Ecological Separation.
Yersinia enterocolitica is a zoonotic pathogen and an important cause of bacterial gastrointestinal infections in humans. Large-scale population genomic analyses revealed genetic and phenotypic diversity of this bacterial species, but little is known about the differences in the transcriptome organization, small RNA (sRNA) repertoire, and transcriptional output. Here, we present the first comparative high-resolution transcriptome analysis of Y. enterocolitica strains representing highly pathogenic phylogroup 2 (serotype O:8) and moderately pathogenic phylogroup 3 (serotype O:3) grown under four infection-relevant conditions. Our transcriptome sequencing (RNA-seq) approach revealed 1,299 and 1,076 transcriptional start sites and identified strain-specific sRNAs that could contribute to differential regulation among the phylogroups. Comparative transcriptomics further uncovered major gene expression differences, in particular, in the temperature-responsive regulon. Multiple virulence-relevant genes are differentially regulated between the two strains, supporting an ecological separation of phylogroups with certain niche-adapted properties. Strong upregulation of the ystA enterotoxin gene in combination with constitutive high expression of cell invasion factor InvA further showed that the toxicity of recent outbreak O:3 strains has increased. Overall, our report provides new insights into the specific transcriptome organization of phylogroups 2 and 3 and reveals gene expression differences contributing to the substantial phenotypic differences that exist between the lineages. IMPORTANCE Yersinia enterocolitica is a major diarrheal pathogen and is associated with a large range of gut-associated diseases. Members of this species have evolved into different phylogroups with genotypic variations. We performed the first characterization of the Y. enterocolitica transcriptional landscape and tracked the consequences of the genomic variations between two different pathogenic phylogroups by comparing their RNA repertoire, promoter usage, and expression profiles under four different virulence-relevant conditions. Our analysis revealed major differences in the transcriptional outputs of the closely related strains, pointing to an ecological separation in which one is more adapted to an environmental lifestyle and the other to a mostly mammal-associated lifestyle. Moreover, a variety of pathoadaptive alterations, including alterations in acid resistance genes, colonization factors, and toxins, were identified which affect virulence and host specificity. This illustrates that comparative transcriptomics is an excellent approach to discover differences in the functional output from closely related genomes affecting niche adaptation and virulence, which cannot be directly inferred from DNA sequences.