Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Medical Sciences

Major Professor

Burt Anderson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Deschenes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andreas Seyfang. Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jahanshah Amin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Thomas Klein, Ph.D.

Committee Member

My Lien Dao, Ph.D.


Angiogenesis, Bacillary angiomatosis, Bartonella henselae, Cat scratch disease, Pathogenesis, Zebrafish embryo


The Gram-negative bacterium Bartonella henselae (Bh) is an emerging zoonotic pathogen that has been associated with a variety of human diseases including bacillary angiomatosis which is characterized by vasoproliferative tumor-like lesions on the skin and internal organs of some immunosuppressed individuals. Several virulence factors associated with Bartonella-induced pathogenesis have been characterized. However, the study of those virulence factors has been limited to in vitro cell culture systems due to the lack of a practical animal model. Therefore, we wanted to investigate whether the zebrafish embryo (Danio rerio) could be used to model human infection with Bh. We investigated if Bh can mount an infection in zebrafish embryos during their early stage of development. Our data showed that Tg(fli1:egfp)y1 zebrafish embryos supported a sustained Bh infection for 7 days with >10-fold bacterial replication when inoculated in the yolk sac. This was evident by plating of zebrafish homogenates, quantitative PCR, and confocal microscopy analysis. We assessed the interaction of Bh with EC and the phagocytic cells in live embryos by microscopy. Our data showed that aggregates of Bh interact with the endothelium of the embryo vasculature. Evidence showed that Bh recruited phagocytes to the site of infection in the Tg(mpx:GFP)uwm1 embryos. We also wanted to determine the response to infection with Bh. Infected embryos showed evidence of a Bh-induced angiogenic phenotype as well as an increase in expression of genes encoding pro-inflammatory factors and pro-angiogenic markers. A deletion mutant for the entire VirB type IV secretion system (ΔvirB2-11 supported bacterial replication although to a lesser degree compared to the wild type control. However, infection of zebrafish embryos with a deletion mutant in the major adhesin (BadA) resulted in little or no bacterial replication and a diminished pro-angiogenic and pro-inflammatory host response compared to wild type Bh, providing the first evidence that BadA is critical for in vivo infection. Thus, the zebrafish embryo provides the first practical animal model of Bh infection that will facilitate efforts to identify virulence factors and define molecular mechanisms of Bh pathogenesis.

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Microbiology Commons