Salmonella enterica serovar Pullorum persists in splenic macrophages and in the reproductive tract during persistent, disease-free carriage in chickens.
Wigley P., Berchieri A., Page KL., Smith AL., Barrow PA.
Salmonella enterica serovar Pullorum is worldwide a poultry pathogen of considerable economic importance, particularly in those countries with a developing poultry industry. In addition to the characteristic high mortality rates among young chicks, one of the features of Salmonella serovar Pullorum infection is that it persists for long periods in convalescent chicks in the absence of clinical disease. This can lead to colonization of the reproductive tract of chickens and at sexual maturity can result in infected progeny through transovarian transmission to eggs. The sites of Salmonella serovar Pullorum persistence in convalescent birds are not known, and the mechanisms of persistence are not understood. Here we show that Salmonella serovar Pullorum can persist in both the spleen and the reproductive tract for over 40 weeks following experimental infection in chickens. During the period of sexual maturity, Salmonella serovar Pullorum colonized both the ovary and the oviduct of hens and led to 6% of laid eggs being infected by Salmonella serovar Pullorum. The colonization of several different sites of the reproductive tract suggests that Salmonella serovar Pullorum may employ more than one mechanism of egg infection. Persistence occurred despite a strong humoral response, suggesting an intracellular site of infection. By use of a Salmonella serovar Pullorum strain containing a plasmid stably expressing green fluorescent protein, we demonstrated that the main site of carriage in the spleen is within macrophages. This raises interesting questions about the biology of Salmonella serovar Pullorum, including why there is an increase in bacterial numbers when birds become sexually mature and in particular how Salmonella serovar Pullorum avoids clearance by macrophages and whether it modulates the immune system in other ways.