Hirudo medicinalis, the medicinal leech, is applied postoperatively in modern medicine. Infections by Aeromonas occur in up to 20% of patients unless a preemptive antibiotic treatment is administered. The associated infections demonstrate the need for a better understanding of the digestive tract flora of H. medicinalis. Early studies reported the presence of a single bacterial species in the digestive tract and suggested that these bacteria were endosymbionts contributing to the digestion of blood. In this study, we cultivated bacteria from the digestive tract and characterized them biochemically. The biochemical test results identified the isolates as Aeromonas veronii biovar sobria. This species identification was supported by sequence comparison of a variable region of the genes coding for 16S rRNA. In a colonization assay, a rifampin-resistant derivative of a symbiotic isolate was fed in a blood meal to H. medicinalis. The strain colonized the digestive tract rapidly and reached a concentration similar to that of the native bacterial flora. For the first 12 h, the in vivo doubling time was 1.2 h at 23°C. After 12 h, at a density of 5 × 107 CFU/ml, the increase in viable counts ceased, suggesting a dramatic reduction in the bacterial growth rate. Two human fecal isolates, identified as Aeromonas hydrophila and A. veronii biovar sobria, were also able to colonize the digestive tract. These data demonstrate that the main culturable bacterium in the crop of H. medicinalis is A. veronii biovar sobria and that the medicinal leech can be used as a model for digestive tract association of Aeromonas species
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