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Genomic analysis indicated that Edwardsiella ictaluri encodes a putative urease pathogenicity island containing the products of nine open reading frames, including urea and ammonium transporters. In vitro studies with wild-type E. ictaluri and a ureG::kan urease mutant strain indicated that E. ictaluri is significantly tolerant of acid conditions (pH 3.0) but that urease activity is not required for acid tolerance. Growth studies demonstrated that E. ictaluri is unable to grow at pH 5 in the absence of urea but is able to elevate the environmental pH from pH 5 to pH 7 and grow when exogenous urea is available. Substantial production of ammonia was observed for wild-type E. ictaluri in vitro in the presence of urea at low pH, and optimal activity occurred at pH 2 to 3. No ammonia production was detected for the urease mutant. Proteomic analysis with two-dimensional gel electrophoresis indicated that urease proteins are expressed at both pH 5 and pH 7, although urease activity is detectable only at pH 5. Urease was not required for initial invasion of catfish but was required for subsequent proliferation and virulence. Urease was not required for initial uptake or survival in head kidney-derived macrophages but was required for intracellular replication. Intracellular replication of wild-type E. ictaluri was significantly enhanced when urea was present, indicating that urease plays an important role in intracellular survival and replication, possibly through neutralization of the acidic environment of the phagosome. Copyright © 2009, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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