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1.  Phase-locked mutants of Mycoplasma agalactiae: defining the molecular switch of high-frequency Vpma antigenic variation 
Molecular Microbiology  2008;67(6):1196-1210.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits antigenic diversity by switching the expression of multiple surface lipoproteins called Vpmas (Variable proteins of M. agalactiae). Although phase variation has been shown to play important roles in many host–pathogen interactions, the biological significance and the mechanism of Vpma oscillations remain largely unclear. Here, we demonstrate that all six Vpma proteins are expressed in the type strain PG2 and all undergo phase variation at an unusually high frequency. Furthermore, targeted gene disruption of the xer1 gene encoding a putative site-specific recombinase adjacent to the vpma locus was accomplished via homologous recombination using a replicon-based vector. Inactivation of xer1 abolished further Vpma switching and the ‘phase-locked’ mutants (PLMs) continued to steadily express only a single Vpma product. Complementation of the wild-type xer1 gene in PLMs restored Vpma phase variation thereby proving that Xer1 is essential for vpma inversions. The study is not only instrumental in enhancing our ability to understand the role of Vpmas in M. agalactiae infections but also provides useful molecular approaches to study potential disease factors in other ‘difficult-to-manipulate’ mycoplasmas.
PMCID: PMC2268961  PMID: 18248580
2.  Characterization of a Multigene Family Undergoing High-Frequency DNA Rearrangements and Coding for Abundant Variable Surface Proteins in Mycoplasma agalactiae 
Infection and Immunity  2000;68(8):4539-4548.
A family of abundant surface proteins (Vpmas [variable proteins of Mycoplasma agalactiae]) undergoing phase variation in M. agalactiae has been characterized using monoclonal antibodies and specific polyclonal sera. Two expressed members of 39 kDa (Vpma39) and 34 kDa (Vpma34), which varied in expression between clones of a lineage, shared a common amino-terminal sequence but were immunologically distinct. An amino-terminal oligonucleotide probe identified multiple vpma genes which were clustered within a 14-kb ClaI genomic fragment. Rearrangements were found to have occurred within the vpma locus between clones which correlated with changes in their Vpma phenotype. Two neighboring vpma genes were cloned and sequenced from one M. agalactiae clonal variant expressing Vpma39. The two genes, vpmaX and vpmaY, were orientated divergently and shared highly homologous 5′ untranslated regions, 25-amino-acid (aa) lipoprotein leader sequences, and amino-terminal sequences. The vpmaY gene coded for 346 aa and 84% of the open reading frame, comprised of 1.5 units of a large repeat of 186 aa. Although the sequence for an entire second vpmaY repeat was present, it was prematurely terminated by insertion of two nucleotides. The vpmaX gene encoded 221 aa and possessed 102 aa of the 186-aa repeat of vpmaY. Many of the features in common between the vpma genes were also found to be shared by the vsp genes of M. bovis, which also undergo DNA rearrangements concomitant with phenotypic changes. Since M. bovis is the closest phylogenetic relative to M. agalactiae, the vpma and vsp gene families most probably represent homologous systems.
PMCID: PMC98368  PMID: 10899853
3.  Surface Diversity in Mycoplasma agalactiae Is Driven by Site-Specific DNA Inversions within the vpma Multigene Locus 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(21):5987-5998.
The ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae possesses a family of abundantly expressed variable surface lipoproteins called Vpmas. Phenotypic switches between Vpma members have previously been correlated with DNA rearrangements within a locus of vpma genes and are proposed to play an important role in disease pathogenesis. In this study, six vpma genes were characterized in the M. agalactiae type strain PG2. All vpma genes clustered within an 8-kb region and shared highly conserved 5′ untranslated regions, lipoprotein signal sequences, and short N-terminal sequences. Analyses of the vpma loci from consecutive clonal isolates showed that vpma DNA rearrangements were site specific and that cleavage and strand exchange occurred within a minimal region of 21 bp located within the 5′ untranslated region of all vpma genes. This process controlled expression of vpma genes by effectively linking the open reading frame (ORF) of a silent gene to a unique active promoter sequence within the locus. An ORF (xer1) immediately adjacent to one end of the vpma locus did not undergo rearrangement and had significant homology to a distinct subset of genes belonging to the λ integrase family of site-specific xer recombinases. It is proposed that xer1 codes for a site-specific recombinase that is not involved in chromosome dimer resolution but rather is responsible for the observed vpma-specific recombination in M. agalactiae.
PMCID: PMC135373  PMID: 12374833
4.  Occurrence, Plasticity, and Evolution of the vpma Gene Family, a Genetic System Devoted to High-Frequency Surface Variation in Mycoplasma agalactiae▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(13):4111-4121.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits a very versatile surface architecture by switching multiple, related lipoproteins (Vpmas) on and off. In the type strain, PG2, Vpma phase variation is generated by a cluster of six vpma genes that undergo frequent DNA rearrangements via site-specific recombination. To further comprehend the degree of diversity that can be generated at the M. agalactiae surface, the vpma gene repertoire of a field strain, 5632, was analyzed and shown to contain an extended repertoire of 23 vpma genes distributed between two loci located 250 kbp apart. Loci I and II include 16 and 7 vpma genes, respectively, with all vpma genes of locus II being duplicated at locus I. Several Vpmas displayed a chimeric structure suggestive of homologous recombination, and a global proteomic analysis further indicated that at least 13 of the 16 Vpmas can be expressed by the 5632 strain. Because a single promoter is present in each vpma locus, concomitant Vpma expression can occur in a strain with duplicated loci. Consequently, the number of possible surface combinations is much higher for strain 5632 than for the type strain. Finally, our data suggested that insertion sequences are likely to be involved in 5632 vpma locus duplication at a remote chromosomal position. The role of such mobile genetic elements in chromosomal shuffling of genes encoding major surface components may have important evolutionary and epidemiological consequences for pathogens, such as mycoplasmas, that have a reduced genome and no cell wall.
PMCID: PMC2698505  PMID: 19376859
5.  Interaction of the putative tyrosine recombinases RipX (UU145), XerC (UU222), and CodV (UU529) of Ureaplasma parvum serovar 3 with specific DNA 
Fems Microbiology Letters  2013;340(1):55-64.
Phase variation of two loci (‘mba locus’ and ‘UU172 phase-variable element’) in Ureaplasma parvum serovar 3 has been suggested as result of site-specific DNA inversion occurring at short inverted repeats. Three potential tyrosine recombinases (RipX, XerC, and CodV encoded by the genes UU145, UU222, and UU529) have been annotated in the genome of U. parvum serovar 3, which could be mediators in the proposed recombination event. We document that only orthologs of the gene xerC are present in all strains that show phase variation in the two loci. We demonstrate in vitro binding of recombinant maltose-binding protein fusions of XerC to the inverted repeats of the phase-variable loci, of RipX to a direct repeat that flanks a 20-kbp region, which has been proposed as putative pathogenicity island, and of CodV to a putative dif site. Co-transformation of the model organism Mycoplasma pneumoniae M129 with both the ‘mba locus’ and the recombinase gene xerC behind an active promoter region resulted in DNA inversion in the ‘mba locus’. Results suggest that XerC of U. parvum serovar 3 is a mediator in the proposed DNA inversion event of the two phase-variable loci.
PMCID: PMC3599477  PMID: 23305333
Ureaplasma; tyrosine recombinase; protein–DNA interaction; electrophoretic mobility shift assay; phase variation; dif site
6.  Molecular Cloning and Characterization of a Surface-Localized Adhesion Protein in Mycoplasma bovis Hubei-1 Strain 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e69644.
Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) is an important pathogen that causes various bovine diseases, such as mastitis in cows and pneumonia in calves. The surface proteins are generally thought to play a central role in the pathogenesis of this organism. We screened the entire genome of M. bovis Hubei-1 and discovered a gene named vpmaX that encodes the 25 kDa variable surface lipoprotein A (VpmaX). Sequence analysis revealed that VpmaX contains several repetitive units and a typical bacterial lipoprotein signal sequence. The vpmaX gene was cloned and expressed in E. coli to obtain recombinant VpmaX (rVpmaX). Western blot analysis using a rabbit antibody against rVpmaX demonstrated that VpmaX is a membrane protein. Immunostaining visualized via confocal laser scanning microscopy showed that rVpmaX was able to adhere to embryonic bovine lung cells (EBL), and this was also confirmed by a sandwich ELISA. In summary, a surface-localized adhesion protein was identified in M. bovis Hubei-1.
PMCID: PMC3720590  PMID: 23936063
7.  Experimental Infections with Mycoplasma agalactiae Identify Key Factors Involved in Host-Colonization 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93970.
Mechanisms underlying pathogenic processes in mycoplasma infections are poorly understood, mainly because of limited sequence similarities with classical, bacterial virulence factors. Recently, large-scale transposon mutagenesis in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae identified the NIF locus, including nifS and nifU, as essential for mycoplasma growth in cell culture, while dispensable in axenic media. To evaluate the importance of this locus in vivo, the infectivity of two knock-out mutants was tested upon experimental infection in the natural host. In this model, the parental PG2 strain was able to establish a systemic infection in lactating ewes, colonizing various body sites such as lymph nodes and the mammary gland, even when inoculated at low doses. In these PG2-infected ewes, we observed over the course of infection (i) the development of a specific antibody response and (ii) dynamic changes in expression of M. agalactiae surface variable proteins (Vpma), with multiple Vpma profiles co-existing in the same animal. In contrast and despite a sensitive model, none of the knock-out mutants were able to survive and colonize the host. The extreme avirulent phenotype of the two mutants was further supported by the absence of an IgG response in inoculated animals. The exact role of the NIF locus remains to be elucidated but these data demonstrate that it plays a key role in the infectious process of M. agalactiae and most likely of other pathogenic mycoplasma species as many carry closely related homologs.
PMCID: PMC3974822  PMID: 24699671
8.  The Unconventional Xer Recombination Machinery of Streptococci/Lactococci 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(7):e117.
Homologous recombination between circular sister chromosomes during DNA replication in bacteria can generate chromosome dimers that must be resolved into monomers prior to cell division. In Escherichia coli, dimer resolution is achieved by site-specific recombination, Xer recombination, involving two paralogous tyrosine recombinases, XerC and XerD, and a 28-bp recombination site (dif) located at the junction of the two replication arms. Xer recombination is tightly controlled by the septal protein FtsK. XerCD recombinases and FtsK are found on most sequenced eubacterial genomes, suggesting that the Xer recombination system as described in E. coli is highly conserved among prokaryotes. We show here that Streptococci and Lactococci carry an alternative Xer recombination machinery, organized in a single recombination module. This corresponds to an atypical 31-bp recombination site (difSL) associated with a dedicated tyrosine recombinase (XerS). In contrast to the E. coli Xer system, only a single recombinase is required to recombine difSL, suggesting a different mechanism in the recombination process. Despite this important difference, XerS can only perform efficient recombination when difSL sites are located on chromosome dimers. Moreover, the XerS/difSL recombination requires the streptococcal protein FtsKSL, probably without the need for direct protein-protein interaction, which we demonstrated to be located at the division septum of Lactococcus lactis. Acquisition of the XerS recombination module can be considered as a landmark of the separation of Streptococci/Lactococci from other firmicutes and support the view that Xer recombination is a conserved cellular function in bacteria, but that can be achieved by functional analogs.
Author Summary
In bacteria, genetic information is mainly carried by a single circular chromosome. The replication of this circular molecule sometimes leads to the formation of a chromosome dimer unable to segregate in the daughter cells during the division process. In the bacterial model E. coli, chromosome dimers are resolved in monomers by site-specific recombination: two recombinases (XerC and XerD) cooperatively catalyze the recombination at a chromosomal site (dif), located at the junction of the two replication arms. This recombination is intimately coupled to cell division by the control of the septal protein FtsK. Xer recombination machinery as described in E. coli appears highly conserved among bacterial species. We show by comparative genomics and genetic studies that Streptococci use an alternative Xer recombination system, renamed XerS/difSL, which is composed of a single recombinase phylogenetically unrelated to XerCD proteins and a noncanonical dif site. We also demonstrate that the streptococcal FtsK protein localizes at the division septum and operates the XerS/difSL recombination. This is the first identification of an alternative Xer recombination system in prokaryotes to out knowledge, which might indicate that other unusual chromosome dimer resolution systems could exist in bacterial phyla where a canonical dif site is not detected.
PMCID: PMC1914069  PMID: 17630835
9.  Xer Recombinase and Genome Integrity in Helicobacter pylori, a Pathogen without Topoisomerase IV 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e33310.
In the model organism E. coli, recombination mediated by the related XerC and XerD recombinases complexed with the FtsK translocase at specialized dif sites, resolves dimeric chromosomes into free monomers to allow efficient chromosome segregation at cell division. Computational genome analysis of Helicobacter pylori, a slow growing gastric pathogen, identified just one chromosomal xer gene (xerH) and its cognate dif site (difH). Here we show that recombination between directly repeated difH sites requires XerH, FtsK but not XerT, the TnPZ transposon associated recombinase. xerH inactivation was not lethal, but resulted in increased DNA per cell, suggesting defective chromosome segregation. The xerH mutant also failed to colonize mice, and was more susceptible to UV and ciprofloxacin, which induce DNA breakage, and thereby recombination and chromosome dimer formation. xerH inactivation and overexpression each led to a DNA segregation defect, suggesting a role for Xer recombination in regulation of replication. In addition to chromosome dimer resolution and based on the absence of genes for topoisomerase IV (parC, parE) in H. pylori, we speculate that XerH may contribute to chromosome decatenation, although possible involvement of H. pylori's DNA gyrase and topoisomerase III homologue are also considered. Further analyses of this system should contribute to general understanding of and possibly therapy development for H. pylori, which causes peptic ulcers and gastric cancer; for the closely related, diarrheagenic Campylobacter species; and for unrelated slow growing pathogens that lack topoisomerase IV, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
PMCID: PMC3325230  PMID: 22511919
10.  Are two better than one? Analysis of an FtsK/Xer recombination system that uses a single recombinase 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(19):6477-6489.
Bacteria harbouring circular chromosomes have a Xer site-specific recombination system that resolves chromosome dimers at division. In Escherichia coli, the activity of the XerCD/dif system is controlled and coupled with cell division by the FtsK DNA translocase. Most Xer systems, as XerCD/dif, include two different recombinases. However, some, as the Lactococcus lactis XerS/difSL system, include only one recombinase. We investigated the functional effects of this difference by studying the XerS/difSL system. XerS bound and recombined difSL sites in vitro, both activities displaying asymmetric characteristics. Resolution of chromosome dimers by XerS/difSL required translocation by division septum-borne FtsK. The translocase domain of L. lactis FtsK supported recombination by XerCD/dif, just as E. coli FtsK supports recombination by XerS/difSL. Thus, the FtsK-dependent coupling of chromosome segregation with cell division extends to non-rod-shaped bacteria and outside the phylum Proteobacteria. Both the XerCD/dif and XerS/difSL recombination systems require the control activities of the FtsKγ subdomain. However, FtsKγ activates recombination through different mechanisms in these two Xer systems. We show that FtsKγ alone activates XerCD/dif recombination. In contrast, both FtsKγ and the translocation motor are required to activate XerS/difSL recombination. These findings have implications for the mechanisms by which FtsK activates recombination.
PMCID: PMC2965235  PMID: 20542912
11.  Variable Lipoprotein Genes of Mycoplasma agalactiae Are Activated In Vivo by Promoter Addition via Site-Specific DNA Inversions  
Infection and Immunity  2003;71(7):3821-3830.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, the etiological agent of contagious agalactia of small ruminants, has a family of related genes (avg genes) which encode surface lipoprotein antigens that undergo phase variation. A series of 13 M. agalactiae clonal isolates, obtained from one chronically infected animal over a period of 7 months, were found to undergo major rearrangement events within the avg genomic locus. We show that these rearrangements regulate the phase-variable expression of individual avg genes. Northern blot analysis and reverse transcription-PCR showed that only one avg gene is transcribed, while the other avg genes are transcriptionally silent. Sequence analysis and primer extension experiments with two M. agalactiae clonal isolates showed that a specific 182-bp avg 5′ upstream region (avg-B2) that is present as a single chromosomal copy serves as an active promoter and exhibits a high level of homology with the vsp promoter of the bovine pathogen Mycoplasma bovis. PCR analysis showed that each avg gene is associated with the avg-B2 promoter in a subpopulation of cells that is present in each subclone. Multiple sequence-specific sites for DNA recombination (vis-like), which are presumably recognized by site-specific recombinase, were identified within the conserved avg 5′ upstream regions of all avg genes and were found to be identical to the recombination sites of the M. bovis vsp locus. In addition, a gene encoding a member of the integrase family of tyrosine site-specific recombinases was identified adjacent to the variable avg locus. The molecular genetic basis for avg phase-variable expression appears to be mediated by site-specific DNA inversions occurring in vivo that allow activation of a silent avg gene by promoter addition. A model for the control of avg genes is proposed.
PMCID: PMC162021  PMID: 12819065
12.  XerCD-Mediated Site-Specific Recombination Leads to Loss of the 57-Kilobase Gonococcal Genetic Island▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;193(2):377-388.
Most strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae carry the 57-kb gonococcal genetic island (GGI), as do a few strains of Neisseria meningitidis. The GGI is inserted into the chromosome at the dif site (difA) and is flanked by a partial repeat of the dif site (difB). Since dif is a sequence recognized by the site-specific recombinases XerC and XerD and the GGI shows evidence of horizontal acquisition, we hypothesized that the GGI may be acquired or lost by XerCD-mediated site-specific recombination. We show that while the GGI flanked by wild-type dif sites, difA and difB, is not readily lost from the gonococcal chromosome, the substitution of difB with another copy of difA allows the frequent excision and loss of the GGI. In mutants carrying two difA sites (difA+ difA+), the GGI can be detected as an extrachromosomal circle that exists transiently. A mutation of xerD diminished GGI excision from the chromosome of a difA+ difA+ strain, while mutations in recA or type IV secretion genes had no effect on the loss of the GGI. These data indicate that the GGI is maintained by the replication of the chromosome and that GGI excision and loss are dependent upon the dif sequence and xerD. The detection of a circular form of the GGI in a wild-type strain suggests that GGI excision may occur naturally and could function to facilitate GGI transfer. These data suggest a model of GGI excision and loss explaining the absence of the GGI from some gonococcal strains and the maintenance of variant GGIs in some gonococcal and meningococcal isolates.
PMCID: PMC3019826  PMID: 21075927
13.  Unexpected genetic diversity of Mycoplasma agalactiae caprine isolates from an endemic geographically restricted area of Spain 
The genetic diversity of Mycoplasma agalactiae (MA) isolates collected in Spain from goats in an area with contagious agalactia (CA) was assessed using a set of validated and new molecular typing methods. Validated methods included pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) typing, and Southern blot hybridization using a set of MA DNA probes, including those for typing the vpma genes repertoire. New approaches were based on PCR and targeted genomic regions that diverged between strains as defined by in silico genomic comparisons of sequenced MA genomes.
Overall, the data showed that all typing tools yielded consistent results, with the VNTR analyses being the most rapid method to differentiate the MA isolates with a discriminatory ability comparable to that of PFGE and of a set of new PCR assays. All molecular typing approaches indicated that the Spanish isolates from the endemic area in Murcia were very diverse, with different clonal isolates probably restricted to separate, but geographically close, local areas.
The important genetic diversity of MA observed in infected goats from Spain contrasts with the overall homogeneity of the genomic background encountered in MA from sheep with CA in Southern France or Italy, suggesting that assessment of the disease status in endemic areas may require different approaches in sheep and in goats. A number of congruent sub-typing tools are now available for the differentiation of caprine isolates with comparable discriminatory powers.
PMCID: PMC3514313  PMID: 22920649
Mycoplasma agalactiae; Molecular typing; Contagious agalactia; Goats
14.  An Efficient Method of Selectable Marker Gene Excision by Xer Recombination for Gene Replacement in Bacterial Chromosomes 
A simple, effective method of unlabeled, stable gene insertion into bacterial chromosomes has been developed. This utilizes an insertion cassette consisting of an antibiotic resistance gene flanked by dif sites and regions homologous to the chromosomal target locus. dif is the recognition sequence for the native Xer site-specific recombinases responsible for chromosome and plasmid dimer resolution: XerC/XerD in Escherichia coli and RipX/CodV in Bacillus subtilis. Following integration of the insertion cassette into the chromosomal target locus by homologous recombination, these recombinases act to resolve the two directly repeated dif sites to a single site, thus excising the antibiotic resistance gene. Previous approaches have required the inclusion of exogenous site-specific recombinases or transposases in trans; our strategy demonstrates that this is unnecessary, since an effective recombination system is already present in bacteria. The high recombination frequency makes the inclusion of a counter-selectable marker gene unnecessary.
PMCID: PMC1449051  PMID: 16597952
15.  RecFOR Is Not Required for Pneumococcal Transformation but Together with XerS for Resolution of Chromosome Dimers Frequently Formed in the Process 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(1):e1004934.
Homologous recombination (HR) is required for both genome maintenance and generation of diversity in eukaryotes and prokaryotes. This process initiates from single-stranded (ss) DNA and is driven by a universal recombinase, which promotes strand exchange between homologous sequences. The bacterial recombinase, RecA, is loaded onto ssDNA by recombinase loaders, RecBCD and RecFOR for genome maintenance. DprA was recently proposed as a third loader dedicated to genetic transformation. Here we assessed the role of RecFOR in transformation of the human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. We firstly established that RecFOR proteins are not required for plasmid transformation, strongly suggesting that DprA ensures annealing of plasmid single-strands internalized in the process. We then observed no reduction in chromosomal transformation using a PCR fragment as donor, contrasting with the 10,000-fold drop in dprA- cells and demonstrating that RecFOR play no role in transformation. However, a ∼1.45-fold drop in transformation was observed with total chromosomal DNA in recFOR mutants. To account for this limited deficit, we hypothesized that transformation with chromosomal DNA stimulated unexpectedly high frequency (>30% of cells) formation of chromosome dimers as an intermediate in the generation of tandem duplications, and that RecFOR were crucial for dimer resolution. We validated this hypothesis, showing that the site-specific recombinase XerS was also crucial for dimer resolution. An even higher frequency of dimer formation (>80% of cells) was promoted by interspecies transformation with Streptococcus mitis chromosomal DNA, which contains numerous inversions compared to pneumococcal chromosome, each potentially promoting dimerization. In the absence of RecFOR and XerS, dimers persist, as confirmed by DAPI staining, and can limit the efficiency of transformation, since resulting in loss of transformant chromosome. These findings strengthen the view that different HR machineries exist for genome maintenance and transformation in pneumococci. These observations presumably apply to most naturally transformable species.
Author Summary
Homologous recombination (HR) is a widespread process which maintains genome integrity and promotes diversity. In bacteria, HR mends damaged DNA to ensure genome integrity and is also involved in transformation, a mechanism of horizontal gene transfer allowing acquisition of new genetic traits. HR is driven by recombinases, which are loaded onto single-stranded DNA by the recombinase loaders RecBCD and RecFOR for genome maintenance. DprA was recently proposed as another loader dedicated to transformation. During transformation, foreign DNA is taken up as single strands and integrated into the chromosome by HR. In this study, we show that RecFOR is not involved in transformation in Streptococcus pneumoniae. These results provide further support to the existence of different HR machineries dedicated to genetic transformation and genome maintenance in this pathogen. In addition, we show that transformation with chromosomal DNA generates chromosome dimers with unexpectedly high frequency, and that their resolution requires RecFOR and the site-specific recombinase XerS. In cells lacking these proteins, dimers persist and have a detrimental effect on the efficiency of transformation. Since the HR mechanisms leading to dimer formation are most likely conserved, this effect is presumably general to naturally transformable species.
PMCID: PMC4287498  PMID: 25569614
16.  The dif/Xer Recombination Systems in Proteobacteria 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(9):e6531.
In E. coli, 10 to 15% of growing bacteria produce dimeric chromosomes during DNA replication. These dimers are resolved by XerC and XerD, two tyrosine recombinases that target the 28-nucleotide motif (dif) associated with the chromosome's replication terminus. In streptococci and lactococci, an alternative system is composed of a unique, Xer-like recombinase (XerS) genetically linked to a dif-like motif (difSL) located at the replication terminus. Preliminary observations have suggested that the dif/Xer system is commonly found in bacteria with circular chromosomes but that assumption has not been confirmed in an exhaustive analysis. The aim of the present study was to extensively characterize the dif/Xer system in the proteobacteria, since this taxon accounts for the majority of genomes sequenced to date. To that end, we analyzed 234 chromosomes from 156 proteobacterial species and showed that most species (87.8%) harbor XerC and XerD-like recombinases and a dif-related sequence which (i) is located in non-coding sequences, (ii) is close to the replication terminus (as defined by the cumulative GC skew) (iii) has a palindromic structure, (iv) is encoded by a low G+C content and (v) contains a highly conserved XerD binding site. However, not all proteobacteria display this dif/XerCD system. Indeed, a sub-group of pathogenic ε-proteobacteria (including Helicobacter sp and Campylobacter sp) harbors a different recombination system, composed of a single recombinase (XerH) which is phylogenetically distinct from the other Xer recombinases and a motif (difH) sharing homologies with difSL. Furthermore, no homologs to dif or Xer recombinases could be detected in small endosymbiont genomes or in certain bacteria with larger chromosomes like the Legionellales. This raises the question of the presence of other chromosomal deconcatenation systems in these species. Our study highlights the complexity of dif/Xer recombinase systems in proteobacteria and paves the way for systematic detection of these components in prokaryotes.
PMCID: PMC2731167  PMID: 19727445
17.  Evidence for a Xer/dif System for Chromosome Resolution in Archaea 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(10):e1001166.
Homologous recombination events between circular chromosomes, occurring during or after replication, can generate dimers that need to be converted to monomers prior to their segregation at cell division. In Escherichia coli, chromosome dimers are converted to monomers by two paralogous site-specific tyrosine recombinases of the Xer family (XerC/D). The Xer recombinases act at a specific dif site located in the replication termination region, assisted by the cell division protein FtsK. This chromosome resolution system has been predicted in most Bacteria and further characterized for some species. Archaea have circular chromosomes and an active homologous recombination system and should therefore resolve chromosome dimers. Most archaea harbour a single homologue of bacterial XerC/D proteins (XerA), but not of FtsK. Therefore, the role of XerA in chromosome resolution was unclear. Here, we have identified dif-like sites in archaeal genomes by using a combination of modeling and comparative genomics approaches. These sites are systematically located in replication termination regions. We validated our in silico prediction by showing that the XerA protein of Pyrococcus abyssi specifically recombines plasmids containing the predicted dif site in vitro. In contrast to the bacterial system, XerA can recombine dif sites in the absence of protein partners. Whereas Archaea and Bacteria use a completely different set of proteins for chromosome replication, our data strongly suggest that XerA is most likely used for chromosome resolution in Archaea.
Author Summary
Bacteria with circular chromosome and active homologous recombination systems have to resolve chromosomal dimers before segregation at cell division. In Escherichia coli, the Xer site-specific recombination system, composed of two recombinases and a specific chromosomal site (dif), is involved in the correct inheritance of the chromosome. The recombination event is tightly regulated by the chromosome translocase FtsK. This chromosome resolution system has been predicted in most bacteria and further characterized for some species. Intriguingly, most archaea possess a gene coding for a recombinase homologous to bacterial Xers, but none have homologues of the bacterial FtsK. We identified the specific target sites for archaeal Xer. This site, present in one copy per chromosome, is located in the replication termination region and shows sequence similarities with bacterial dif sites. In vitro, the archaeal Xer recombines this site in the absence of protein partner. It has been shown that DNA–related proteins from Archaea and Eukarya share a common origin, whereas their analogues in Bacteria have evolved independently. In this context, Eukarya and Archaea would represent sister groups. Therefore, the presence of a shared Xer-dif system between Bacteria and Archaea illustrates the complex origin of modern DNA genomes.
PMCID: PMC2958812  PMID: 20975945
18.  Interactions of the site-specific recombinases XerC and XerD with the recombination site dif. 
Nucleic Acids Research  1994;22(25):5613-5620.
The Xer site-specific recombination system of Escherichia coli is involved in the stable inheritance of circular replicons. Multimeric replicons, produced by homologous recombination, are converted to monomers by the action of two related recombinases XerC and XerD. Site-specific recombination at a locus, dif, within the chromosomal replication terminus region is thought to convert dimeric chromosomes to monomers, which can then be segregated prior to cell division. The recombinases XerC and XerD bind cooperatively to dif, where they catalyse recombination. Chemical modification of specific bases and the phosphate-sugar backbone within dif was used to investigate the requirements for binding of the recombinases. Site-directed mutagenesis was then used to alter bases implicated in recombinase binding. Characterization of these mutants by in vitro recombinase binding and in vivo recombination, has demonstrated that the cooperative interactions between XerC and XerD can partially overcome DNA alterations that should interfere with specific recombinase-dif interactions.
PMCID: PMC310124  PMID: 7838714
19.  Differences in Resolution of mwr-Containing Plasmid Dimers Mediated by the Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli XerC Recombinases: Potential Implications in Dissemination of Antibiotic Resistance Genes 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(8):2812-2820.
Xer-mediated dimer resolution at the mwr site of the multiresistance plasmid pJHCMW1 is osmoregulated in Escherichia coli containing either the Escherichia coli Xer recombination machinery or Xer recombination elements from K. pneumoniae. In the presence of K. pneumoniae XerC (XerCKp), the efficiency of recombination is lower than that in the presence of the E. coli XerC (XerCEc) and the level of dimer resolution is insufficient to stabilize the plasmid, even at low osmolarity. This lower efficiency of recombination at mwr is observed in the presence of E. coli or K. pneumoniae XerD proteins. Mutagenesis experiments identified a region near the N terminus of XerCKp responsible for the lower level of recombination catalyzed by XerCKp at mwr. This region encompasses the second half of the predicted α-helix B and the beginning of the predicted α-helix C. The efficiencies of recombination at other sites such as dif or cer in the presence of XerCKp or XerCEc are comparable. Therefore, XerCKp is an active recombinase whose action is impaired on the mwr recombination site. This characteristic may result in restriction of the host range of plasmids carrying this site, a phenomenon that may have important implications in the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes.
PMCID: PMC1446988  PMID: 16585742
20.  Evidence from Terminal Recombination Gradients that FtsK Uses Replichore Polarity To Control Chromosome Terminus Positioning at Division in Escherichia coli 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(14):3801-3807.
Chromosome dimers in Escherichia coli are resolved at the dif locus by two recombinases, XerC and XerD, and the septum-anchored FtsK protein. Chromosome dimer resolution (CDR) is subject to strong spatiotemporal control: it takes place at the time of cell division, and it requires the dif resolution site to be located at the junction between the two polarized chromosome arms or replichores. Failure of CDR results in trapping of DNA by the septum and RecABCD recombination (terminal recombination). We had proposed that dif sites of a dimer are first moved to the septum by mechanisms based on local polarity and that normally CDR then occurs as the septum closes. To determine whether FtsK plays a role in the mobilization process, as well as in the recombination reaction, we characterized terminal recombination in an ftsK mutant. The frequency of recombination at various points in the terminus region of the chromosome was measured and compared with the recombination frequency on a xerC mutant chromosome with respect to intensity, the region affected, and response to polarity distortion. The use of a prophage excision assay, which allows variation of the site of recombination and interference with local polarity, allowed us to find that cooperating FtsK-dependent and -independent processes localize dif at the septum and that DNA mobilization by FtsK is oriented by the polarity probably due to skewed sequence motifs of the mobilized material.
PMCID: PMC135174  PMID: 12081949
21.  Dissection of a functional interaction between the DNA translocase, FtsK, and the XerD recombinase 
Molecular Microbiology  2006;59(6):1754-1766.
Successful bacterial circular chromosome segregation requires that any dimeric chromosomes, which arise by crossing over during homologous recombination, are converted to monomers. Resolution of dimers to monomers requires the action of the XerCD site-specific recombinase at dif in the chromosome replication terminus region. This reaction requires the DNA translocase, FtsKC, which activates dimer resolution by catalysing an ATP hydrolysis-dependent switch in the catalytic state of the nucleoprotein recombination complex. We show that a 62-amino-acid fragment of FtsKC interacts directly with the XerD C-terminus in order to stimulate the cleavage by XerD of BSN, a dif-DNA suicide substrate containing a nick in the ‘bottom’ strand. The resulting recombinase–DNA covalent complex can undergo strand exchange with intact duplex dif in the absence of ATP. FtsKC-mediated stimulation of BSN cleavage by XerD requires synaptic complex formation. Mutational impairment of the XerD–FtsKC interaction leads to reduction in the in vitro stimulation of BSN cleavage by XerD and a concomitant deficiency in the resolution of chromosomal dimers at dif in vivo, although other XerD functions are not affected.
PMCID: PMC1413583  PMID: 16553881
22.  Asymmetric DNA requirements in Xer recombination activation by FtsK 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;37(7):2371-2380.
In bacteria with circular chromosomes, homologous recombination events can lead to the formation of chromosome dimers. In Escherichia coli, chromosome dimers are resolved by the addition of a crossover by two tyrosine recombinases, XerC and XerD, at a specific site on the chromosome, dif. Recombination depends on a direct contact between XerD and a cell division protein, FtsK, which functions as a hexameric double stranded DNA translocase. Here, we have investigated how the structure and composition of DNA interferes with Xer recombination activation by FtsK. XerC and XerD each cleave a specific strand on dif, the top and bottom strand, respectively. We found that the integrity and nature of eight bottom-strand nucleotides and three top-strand nucleotides immediately adjacent to the XerD-binding site of dif are crucial for recombination. These nucleotides are probably not implicated in FtsK translocation since FtsK could translocate on single stranded DNA in both the 5′–3′ and 3′–5′ orientation along a few nucleotides. We propose that they are required to stabilize FtsK in the vicinity of dif for recombination to occur because the FtsK–XerD interaction is too transient or too weak in itself to allow for XerD catalysis.
PMCID: PMC2673442  PMID: 19246541
23.  The ripX Locus of Bacillus subtilis Encodes a Site-Specific Recombinase Involved in Proper Chromosome Partitioning 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(19):6053-6062.
The Bacillus subtilis ripX gene encodes a protein that has 37 and 44% identity with the XerC and XerD site-specific recombinases of Escherichia coli. XerC and XerD are hypothesized to act in concert at the dif site to resolve dimeric chromosomes formed by recombination during replication. Cultures of ripX mutants contained a subpopulation of unequal-size cells held together in long chains. The chains included anucleate cells and cells with aberrantly dense or diffuse nucleoids, indicating a chromosome partitioning failure. This result is consistent with RipX having a role in the resolution of chromosome dimers in B. subtilis. Spores contain a single uninitiated chromosome, and analysis of germinated, outgrowing spores showed that the placement of FtsZ rings and septa is affected in ripX strains by the first division after the initiation of germination. The introduction of a recA mutation into ripX strains resulted in only slight modifications of the ripX phenotype, suggesting that chromosome dimers can form in a RecA-independent manner in B. subtilis. In addition to RipX, the CodV protein of B. subtilis shows extensive similarity to XerC and XerD. The RipX and CodV proteins were shown to bind in vitro to DNA containing the E. coli dif site. Together they functioned efficiently in vitro to catalyze site-specific cleavage of an artificial Holliday junction containing a dif site. Inactivation of codV alone did not cause a discernible change in phenotype, and it is speculated that RipX can substitute for CodV in vivo.
PMCID: PMC103633  PMID: 10498718
24.  FtsK translocation on DNA stops at XerCD-dif 
Nucleic Acids Research  2009;38(1):72-81.
Escherichia coli FtsK is a powerful, fast, double-stranded DNA translocase, which can strip proteins from DNA. FtsK acts in the late stages of chromosome segregation by facilitating sister chromosome unlinking at the division septum. KOPS-guided DNA translocation directs FtsK towards dif, located within the replication terminus region, ter, where FtsK activates XerCD site-specific recombination. Here we show that FtsK translocation stops specifically at XerCD-dif, thereby preventing removal of XerCD from dif and allowing activation of chromosome unlinking by recombination. Stoppage of translocation at XerCD-dif is accompanied by a reduction in FtsK ATPase and is not associated with FtsK dissociation from DNA. Specific stoppage at recombinase-DNA complexes does not require the FtsKγ regulatory subdomain, which interacts with XerD, and is not dependent on either recombinase-mediated DNA cleavage activity, or the formation of synaptic complexes.
PMCID: PMC2800217  PMID: 19854947
25.  Recombination at ColE1 cer requires the Escherichia coli xerC gene product, a member of the lambda integrase family of site-specific recombinases. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1990;172(12):6973-6980.
Site-specific recombination at the plasmid ColE1 cer site requires the Escherichia coli chromosomal gene xerC. The xerC gene has been localized to the 85-min region of the E. coli chromosome, between cya and uvrD. The nucleotide sequences of the xerC gene and flanking regions have been determined. The xerC gene encodes a protein with a calculated molecular mass of 33.8 kDa. This protein has substantial sequence similarity to the lambda integrase family of site-specific recombinases and is probably the cer recombinase. The xerC gene is expressed as part of a multicistronic unit that includes the dapF gene and two other open reading frames.
PMCID: PMC210817  PMID: 2254268

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