An emerging bacterial disease, acute hepatopancreatic necrosis disease (AHPND), is caused by strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus with an additional AHPND-associated plasmid pVA1 encoding a virulent toxin (Pir vp ) that damages the shrimp's hepatopancreas. Like other species of Vibrio, these virulent strains initially colonise the shrimp's stomach, but it is not yet understood how the bacteria or toxins are subsequently able to cross the epithelial barrier and reach the hepatopancreas. Here, by using transcriptomics and system biology methods, we investigate AHPND-induced changes in the stomach of AHPND-causing V. parahaemolyticus (5HP)-infected shrimp and identify host molecular mechanisms that might explain how the integrity of the stomach barrier is compromised. We found that the expression of 376 unique genes was differentially regulated by AHPND infection. Gene ontology, protein interaction, and gene-to-gene correlation expression interaction analyses indicated that in addition to the immune system, a number of these genes were involved in cytoskeleton regulation by Rho GTPase. The involvement of Rho pathway regulation during AHPND pathogenesis was further supported by experiments showing that while Rho inhibitor pretreatment delayed the infection, pretreatment with Rho activator enhanced the pathogenicity of 5HP, and both the bacteria and toxin were detected sooner in the hepatopancreas. Further, disruption of the stomach epithelial structure was found in both Rho preactivated shrimp and in 5HP-infected shrimp. Taken together, we interpret our results to mean that Rho signalling helps to mediate AHPND pathogenesis in shrimp.
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