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Authors: Pöntinen, Anna and Aalto-Araneda, Mariella and Lindström, Miia and Korkeala, Hannu

Listeria monocytogenes is one of the most heat-resistant non-spore-forming food-borne pathogens and poses a notable risk to food safety, particularly when mild heat treatments are used in food processing and preparation. While general heat stress properties and response mechanisms of L. monocytogenes have been described, accessory mechanisms providing particular L. monocytogenes strains with the advantage of enhanced heat resistance are unknown. Here, we report plasmid-mediated heat resistance of L. monocytogenes for the first time. This resistance is mediated by the ATP-dependent protease ClpL. We tested the survival of two wild-type L. monocytogenes strains-both of serotype 1/2c, sequence type ST9, and high sequence identity-at high temperatures and compared their genome composition in order to identify genetic mechanisms involved in their heat survival phenotype. L. monocytogenes AT3E was more heat resistant (0.0 CFU/ml log10 reduction) than strain AL4E (1.4 CFU/ml log10 reduction) after heating at 55°C for 40 min. A prominent difference in the genome compositions of the two strains was a 58-kb plasmid (pLM58) harbored by the heat-resistant AT3E strain, suggesting plasmid-mediated heat resistance. Indeed, plasmid curing resulted in significantly decreased heat resistance (1.1 CFU/ml log10 reduction) at 55°C. pLM58 harbored a 2,115-bp open reading frame annotated as an ATP-dependent protease (ClpL)-encoding clpL gene. Introducing the clpL gene into a natively heat-sensitive L. monocytogenes strain (1.2 CFU/ml log10 reduction) significantly increased the heat resistance of the recipient strain (0.4 CFU/ml log10 reduction) at 55°C. Plasmid-borne ClpL is thus a potential predictor of elevated heat resistance in L. monocytogenes. IMPORTANCEListeria monocytogenes is a dangerous food pathogen causing the severe illness listeriosis that has a high mortality rate in immunocompromised individuals. Although destroyed by pasteurization, L. monocytogenes is among the most heat-resistant non-spore-forming bacteria. This poses a risk to food safety, as listeriosis is commonly associated with ready-to-eat foods that are consumed without thorough heating. However, L. monocytogenes strains differ in their ability to survive high temperatures, and comprehensive understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying these differences is still limited. Whole-genome-sequence analysis and phenotypic characterization allowed us to identify a novel plasmid, designated pLM58, and a plasmid-borne ATP-dependent protease (ClpL), which mediated heat resistance in L. monocytogenes. As the first report on plasmid-mediated heat resistance in L. monocytogenes, our study sheds light on the accessory genetic mechanisms rendering certain L. monocytogenes strains particularly capable of surviving high temperatures-with plasmid-borne ClpL being a potential predictor of elevated heat resistance.

Journal: mSphere
DOI: 10.1128/mSphere.00364-17
Year: 2017

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