Isolation of bacterial small colony variants (SCVs) from clinical specimens is not uncommon and can fundamentally change the outcome of the associated infections. Bacterial SCVs often emerge with their normal colony phenotype (NCV) co-isolates in the same sample. The basis of SCV emergence in vivo is not well understood in Gram-negative bacteria. In this study, we interrogated the causal genetic lesions of SCV growth in three pairs of NCV and SCV co-isolates of Escherichia coli, Citrobacter freundii, and Enterobacter hormaechei. We confirmed SCV emergence was attributed to limited genomic mutations: 4 single nucleotide variants in the E. coli SCV, 5 in C. freundii, and 8 in E. hormaechei. In addition, a 10.2 kb chromosomal segment containing 11 genes was deleted in the E. hormaechei SCV isolate. Each SCV had at least one coding change in a gene associated with bacterial oxidative respiration and another involved in iron capture. Chemical and genetic rescue confirmed defects in heme biosynthesis for E. coli and C. freundii and lipoic acid biosynthesis in E. hormaachei were responsible for the SCV phenotype. Prototrophic growth in all 3 SCV Enterobacteriaceae species was unaffected under anaerobic culture conditions in vitro, illustrating how SCVs may persist in vivo.
ASJC Scopus subject areas