SUMMARY: The role of motility as a virulence factor in burn wound sepsis was examined using mutants deficient in the Fla or Mot phenotype. Physiological profiles of parental strains and Fla and Mot mutants were similar with respect to antibiograms, O antigen types, growth rates, and proteolytic, exotoxin A and phospholipase activities, providing evidence for isogenicity. Lethality studies using a subcutaneous mouse burn model showed that three Fla mutants and one Mot mutant were much less virulent (10 to 10 times) than the parent wild-type. Topical challenges in the flame burn model showed that a Fla mutant of strain M-2 was approximately tenfold less virulent. A reduction in virulence, although somewhat less than tenfold, was also observed in the scald burn model for M-2 Fla, and Mot strains. Tissue colonization experiments revealed a characteristic, rapidly systemic infection in burned mice challenged with wild-type organisms. Nonmotile mutants similarly proliferated in the burn wound, but the characteristic bacteraemia and systemic invasion were markedly absent. The infection remained localized in the skin wound and the mice survived. The pattern of infection by nonmotile mutants in the colonization studies was very similar to that obtained with Fla cells in burned animals passively treated with antiflagellar antibody. These results add substantial support to the concept of motility as a virulence factor in invasive infections.


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