Kumar’s paper in press @ JoVE: A Rapid Image-based Bacterial Virulence Assay Using Amoeba

Traditional bacterial virulence assays involve prolonged exposure of bacteria over the course of several hours to host cells. During this time, bacteria can undergo changes in the physiology due to the exposure to host growth environment and the presence of the host cells. We developed an assay to rapidly measure the virulence state of bacteria that minimize the extent to which bacteria grow in the presence of host cells. Bacteria and amoebae are mixed together and immobilized on a single imaging plane using an agar pad. The procedure uses single-cell fluorescence imaging with calcein-acetoxymethyl ester (calcein-AM) as an indicator of host cell health. The fluorescence of host cells is analyzed after 1 h of exposure of host cells to bacteria using epifluorescence microscopy. Image analysis software is used to compute a host killing index. This method has been used to measure virulence within planktonic and surface-attached Pseudomonas aeruginosa sub-populations during the initial stage of biofilm formation and may be adapted to other bacteria and other stages of biofilm growth. This protocol provides a rapid and robust method of measuring virulence and avoids many of the complexities associated with the growth and maintenance of mammalian cell lines. Virulence phenotypes measured here using amoebae have also been validated using mouse macrophages. In particular, this assay was used to establish that surface attachment upregulates virulence in P. aeruginosa.