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Dr Jeanne Salje

Research Area: Cell and Molecular Biology
Technology Exchange: Microscopy (Confocal), Microscopy (EM), Protein interaction and Transcript profiling
Scientific Themes: Tropical Medicine & Global Health and Immunology & Infectious Disease
The intracellular life cycle of Orientia tsutsugamushi

The intracellular life cycle of Orientia tsutsugamushi

Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria, labelled with a fluorescent antibody against a major surface protein (the 56kDa protein)

Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria, labelled with a fluorescent antibody against a major surface protei ...

Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria (green) inside a mouse fibroblast cell (red) 50 minutes after infection.

Orientia tsutsugamushi bacteria (green) inside a mouse fibroblast cell (red) 50 minutes after infect ...

My research group studies the host-pathogen biology of the obligate intracellular bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi. This vector-borne pathogen causes the life-threatening human disease scrub typhus, that is endemic in large parts of Asia but that is severely under-reported due to difficulties in diagnostics and surveillance. We use a combination of cell biology, biochemistry and systems biology approaches to dissect fundamental questions about the host-pathogen biology of this clinically important bacterium.

Current research is primarily focussed on the following areas: 

1. Developing improved experimental tools for O. tsutsugamushi research. These include methods for bacterial propagation and isolation, developing fluorescent labelling methods for light microscopy imaging and establishing methods for genetic manipulation of Orientia.

2. Studying the structure of the cell wall and cell surface of O. tsutsugamushi, and understanding the implications for bacterial growth and division.

3. Studying the intracellular lifecycle of O. tsutsugamushi. This includes determining molecular mechanisms of bacterial attachment and entry into host cells, escape from the endo-lysosomal pathway, and exit from infected host cells.

4. Using next generation sequencing approaches to study genome organisation and dynamics. We are particularly interested in following genome changes over time and under different selective pressures.

Name Department Institution Country
Professor Nicholas PJ Day FMedSci FRCP Tropical Medicine University of Oxford United Kingdom
Professor Daniel H Paris Tropical Medicine University of Oxford United Kingdom
Dr Rory Bowden Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics University of Oxford United Kingdom

Giengkam S, Blakes A, Utsahajit P, Chaemchuen S, Atwal S, Blacksell SD, Paris DH, Day NP, Salje J. 2015. Improved Quantification, Propagation, Purification and Storage of the Obligate Intracellular Human Pathogen Orientia tsutsugamushi. PLoS Negl Trop Dis, 9 (8), pp. e0004009. Read abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Scrub typhus is a leading cause of serious febrile illness in rural Southeast Asia. The causative agent, Orientia tsutsugamushi, is an obligate intracellular bacterium that is transmitted to humans by the bite of a Leptotrombidium mite. Research into the basic mechanisms of cell biology and pathogenicity of O. tsutsugamushi has lagged behind that of other important human pathogens. One reason for this is that O. tsutsugamushi is an obligate intracellular bacterium that can only be cultured in mammalian cells and that requires specific methodologies for propagation and analysis. Here, we have performed a body of work designed to improve methods for quantification, propagation, purification and long-term storage of this important but neglected human pathogen. These results will be useful to other researchers working on O. tsutsugamushi and also other obligate intracellular pathogens such as those in the Rickettsiales and Chlamydiales families. METHODOLOGY: A clinical isolate of O. tsutsugamushi was grown in cultured mouse embryonic fibroblast (L929) cells. Bacterial growth was measured using an O. tsutsugamushi-specific qPCR assay. Conditions leading to improvements in viability and growth were monitored in terms of the effect on bacterial cell number after growth in cultured mammalian cells. KEY RESULTS: Development of a standardised growth assay to quantify bacterial replication and viability in vitro. Quantitative comparison of different DNA extraction methods. Quantification of the effect on growth of FBS concentration, daunorubicin supplementation, media composition, host cell confluence at infection and frequency of media replacement. Optimisation of bacterial purification including a comparison of host cell lysis methods, purification temperature, bacterial yield calculations and bacterial pelleting at different centrifugation speeds. Quantification of bacterial viability loss after long term storage and freezing under a range of conditions including different freezing buffers and different rates of freezing. CONCLUSIONS: Here we present a standardised method for comparing the viability of O. tsutsugamushi after purification, treatment and propagation under various conditions. Taken together, we present a body of data to support improved techniques for propagation, purification and storage of this organism. This data will be useful both for improving clinical isolation rates as well as performing in vitro cell biology experiments. Hide abstract

Salje J, van den Ent F, de Boer P, Löwe J. 2011. Direct membrane binding by bacterial actin MreB. Mol Cell, 43 (3), pp. 478-487. Read abstract | Read more

Bacterial actin MreB is one of the key components of the bacterial cytoskeleton. It assembles into short filaments that lie just underneath the membrane and organize the cell wall synthesis machinery. Here we show that MreB from both T. maritima and E. coli binds directly to cell membranes. This function is essential for cell shape determination in E. coli and is proposed to be a general property of many, if not all, MreBs. We demonstrate that membrane binding is mediated by a membrane insertion loop in TmMreB and by an N-terminal amphipathic helix in EcMreB and show that purified TmMreB assembles into double filaments on a membrane surface that can induce curvature. This, the first example of a membrane-binding actin filament, prompts a fundamental rethink of the structure and dynamics of MreB filaments within cells. Hide abstract

Salje J, Gayathri P, Löwe J. 2010. The ParMRC system: molecular mechanisms of plasmid segregation by actin-like filaments. Nat Rev Microbiol, 8 (10), pp. 683-692. Read abstract | Read more

The ParMRC plasmid partitioning apparatus is one of the best characterized systems for bacterial DNA segregation. Bundles of actin-like filaments are used to push plasmids to opposite poles of the cell, whereupon they are stably inherited on cell division. This plasmid-encoded system comprises just three components: an actin-like protein, ParM, a DNA-binding adaptor protein, ParR, and a centromere-like region, parC. The properties and interactions of these components have been finely tuned to enable ParM filaments to search the cell space for plasmids and then move ParR-parC-bound DNA molecules apart. In this Review, we look at some of the most exciting questions in the field concerning the exact molecular mechanisms by which the components of this self-contained system modulate one another's activity to achieve bipolar DNA segregation. Hide abstract

Salje J. 2010. Plasmid segregation: how to survive as an extra piece of DNA. Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol, 45 (4), pp. 296-317. Read abstract | Read more

Non-essential extra-chromosomal DNA elements such as plasmids are responsible for their own propagation in dividing host cells, and one means to ensure this is to carry a miniature active segregation system reminiscent of the mitotic spindle. Plasmids that are maintained at low numbers in prokaryotic cells have developed a range of such active partitioning systems, which are characterized by an impressive simplicity and efficiency and which are united by the use of dynamic, nucleotide-driven filaments to separate and position DNA molecules. A comparison of different plasmid segregation systems reveals (i) how unrelated filament-forming and DNA-binding proteins have been adopted and modified to create a range of simple DNA segregating complexes and (ii) how subtle changes in the few components of these DNA segregation machines has led to a remarkable diversity in the molecular mechanisms of closely related segregation systems. Here, our current understanding of plasmid segregation systems is reviewed and compared with other DNA segregation systems, and this is extended by a discussion of basic principles of plasmid segregation systems, evolutionary implications and the relationship between an autonomous DNA element and its host cell. Hide abstract

Salje J, Zuber B, Löwe J. 2009. Electron cryomicroscopy of E. coli reveals filament bundles involved in plasmid DNA segregation. Science, 323 (5913), pp. 509-512. Read abstract | Read more

Bipolar elongation of filaments of the bacterial actin homolog ParM drives movement of newly replicated plasmid DNA to opposite poles of a bacterial cell. We used a combination of vitreous sectioning and electron cryotomography to study this DNA partitioning system directly in native, frozen cells. The diffraction patterns from overexpressed ParM bundles in electron cryotomographic reconstructions were used to unambiguously identify ParM filaments in Escherichia coli cells. Using a low-copy number plasmid encoding components required for partitioning, we observed small bundles of three to five intracellular ParM filaments that were situated close to the edge of the nucleoid. We propose that this may indicate the capture of plasmid DNA within the periphery of this loosely defined, chromosome-containing region. Hide abstract

Salje J, Löwe J. 2008. Bacterial actin: architecture of the ParMRC plasmid DNA partitioning complex. EMBO J, 27 (16), pp. 2230-2238. Read abstract | Read more

The R1 plasmid employs ATP-driven polymerisation of the actin-like protein ParM to move newly replicated DNA to opposite poles of a bacterial cell. This process is essential for ensuring accurate segregation of the low-copy number plasmid and is the best characterised example of DNA partitioning in prokaryotes. In vivo, ParM only forms long filaments when capped at both ends by attachment to a centromere-like region parC, through a small DNA-binding protein ParR. Here, we present biochemical and electron microscopy data leading to a model for the mechanism by which ParR-parC complexes bind and stabilise elongating ParM filaments. We propose that the open ring formed by oligomeric ParR dimers with parC DNA wrapped around acts as a rigid clamp, which holds the end of elongating ParM filaments while allowing entry of new ATP-bound monomers. We propose a processive mechanism by which cycles of ATP hydrolysis in polymerising ParM drives movement of ParR-bound parC DNA. Importantly, our model predicts that each pair of plasmids will be driven apart in the cell by just a single double helical ParM filament. Hide abstract

Intracellular bacteria: understanding the molecular basis of bacteria-host cell interactions

Bacteria that live inside eukaryotic cells have an intriguing relationship with their host cells. They are dependent on them for nutrition and shelter, but should avoid killing their hosts or being killed by them. They have consequently evolved a number of remarkable mechanisms to reprogramme the host cell upon entry in order to better ensure their own survival and dissemination.Rickettsiaceae are a family of obligate intracellular bacteria that include the precursor of modern mitochondria. They ...

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