Burkholderia cenocepacia belongs to a group of closely related organisms called the B. cepacia complex (Bcc) which are important opportunistic human pathogens. B. cenocepacia utilizes a mechanism of cell-cell communication called quorum sensing to control gene expression including genes involved in virulence. The B. cenocepacia quorum sensing network includes the CepIR and CciIR regulatory systems.
Global gene expression profiles during growth in stationary phase were generated using microarrays of B. cenocepacia cepR, cciR and cepRcciIR mutants. This is the first time CciR was shown to be a global regulator of quorum sensing gene expression. CepR was primarily responsible for positive regulation of gene expression while CciR generally exerted negative gene regulation. Many of the genes that were regulated by both quorum sensing systems were reciprocally regulated by CepR and CciR. Microarray analysis of the cepRcciIR mutant suggested that CepR is positioned upstream of CciR in the quorum sensing hierarchy in B. cenocepacia. A comparison of CepIR-regulated genes identified in previous studies and in the current study showed a substantial amount of overlap validating the microarray approach. Several novel quorum sensing-controlled genes were confirmed using qRT-PCR or promoter::lux fusions. CepR and CciR inversely regulated flagellar-associated genes, the nematocidal protein AidA and a large gene cluster on Chromosome 3. CepR and CciR also regulated genes required for iron transport, synthesis of extracellular enzymes and surface appendages, resistance to oxidative stress, and phage-related genes.
For the first time, the influence of CciIR on global gene regulation in B. cenocepacia has been elucidated. Novel genes under the control of the CepIR and CciIR quorum sensing systems in B. cenocepacia have been identified. The two quorum sensing systems exert reciprocal regulation of many genes likely enabling fine-tuned control of quorum sensing gene expression in B. cenocepacia strains carrying the cenocepacia island.