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1.  Comparison of transcription of the Haemophilus influenzae iron/heme modulon genes in vitro and in vivo in the chinchilla middle ear 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:925.
Haemophilus influenzae is a significant cause of childhood otitis media, and also has an absolute growth requirement for heme. Recent microarray studies using three H. influenzae isolates were used to propose a putative core of genes responsive to iron and heme levels. Included in the core modulon were thirty seven genes that are preferentially expressed under iron/heme limitation, most of which are directly involved with iron and or heme acquisition. In this report, the core iron/heme modulon was further refined following microarray analysis of two additional nontypeable H. influenzae isolates from patients with otitis media. The transcriptional status of the genes comprising the refined iron/heme core modulon was then assessed in vivo, in a chinchilla model of otitis media. These in vivo experiments were performed to address the hypothesis that iron and heme regulated genes are both highly expressed in vivo and important, during clinical infection.
Microarray analysis of two additional H. influenzae strains resulted in the definition of a core of iron/heme responsive genes. This core consisted of 35 genes maximally expressed under heme restriction and a further 20 genes maximally expressed in heme replete conditions. In vivo studies were performed with two nontypeable H. influenzae strains, 86-028NP and HI1722. The majority of operons identified as members of the core modulon by microarray were also actively upregulated in the chinchilla ear during otitis media. In 86-028NP, 70% of the operons were significantly upregulated while in HI1722 100% of the operons were upregulated in samples recovered from the chinchilla middle ear.
This study elucidates a conserved core of H. influenzae genes the transcription of which is altered by the availability of iron and heme in the growth environment, and further assesses transcription of these genes in vivo. Elucidation of this modulon allows for identification of genes with unrecognized roles in iron/heme acquisition or homeostasis and/or potential roles in virulence. Defining these core genes is also of potential importance in identifying targets for therapeutic and vaccine designs since products of these genes are likely to be preferentially expressed during growth in iron/heme restricted sites of the human body.
PMCID: PMC3879429  PMID: 24373462
Haemophilus influenzae; Iron; Heme; Transcription
2.  Iron acquisition by Haemophilus influenzae. 
Infection and Immunity  1988;56(4):721-725.
The mechanisms for acquisition of iron by Haemophilus influenzae and their role in pathogenesis are not known. Heme and nonheme sources of iron were evaluated for their effect on growth of type b and nontypable strains of H. influenzae in an iron-restricted, defined medium. All 13 strains acquired iron from heme, hemoglobin, hemoglobin-haptoglobin, and heme-hemopexin. Among nonheme sources of protein-bound iron, growth of H. influenzae was enhanced by partially saturated human transferrin but not by lactoferrin or ferritin. Purified ferrienterochelin and ferridesferrioxamine failed to provide iron to H. influenzae, and the supernatants of H. influenzae E1a grown in iron-restricted medium failed to enhance iron-restricted growth of siderophore-dependent strains of Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and Arthrobacter terregens. Marked alterations in the profile of outer membrane proteins of H. influenzae were observed when the level of free iron was varied between 1 microM and 1 mM. Catechols were not detected in the supernatants of strain E1a; however, iron-related hydroxamate production was detected by two biochemical assays. We conclude that the sources of iron for H. influenzae are diverse. The significance of hydroxamate production and iron-related outer membrane proteins to H. influenzae iron acquisition is not yet clear.
PMCID: PMC259360  PMID: 2964410
3.  The dppBCDF gene cluster of Haemophilus influenzae: Role in heme utilization 
BMC Research Notes  2009;2:166.
Haemophilus influenzae requires a porphyrin source for aerobic growth and possesses multiple mechanisms to obtain this essential nutrient. This porphyrin requirement may be satisfied by either heme alone, or protoporphyrin IX in the presence of an iron source. One protein involved in heme acquisition by H. influenzae is the periplasmic heme binding protein HbpA. HbpA exhibits significant homology to the dipeptide and heme binding protein DppA of Escherichia coli. DppA is a component of the DppABCDF peptide-heme permease of E. coli. H. influenzae homologs of dppBCDF are located in the genome at a point distant from hbpA. The object of this study was to investigate the potential role of the H. influenzae dppBCDF locus in heme utilization.
An insertional mutation in dppC was constructed and the impact of the mutation on the utilization of both free heme and various proteinaceous heme sources as well as utilization of protoporphyrin IX was determined in growth curve studies. The dppC insertion mutant strain was significantly impacted in utilization of all tested heme sources and protoporphyin IX. Complementation of the dppC mutation with an intact dppCBDF gene cluster in trans corrected the growth defects seen in the dppC mutant strain.
The dppCBDF gene cluster constitutes part of the periplasmic heme-acquisition systems of H. influenzae.
PMCID: PMC2738685  PMID: 19703293
4.  Transcription of genes encoding iron and heme acquisition proteins of Haemophilus influenzae during acute otitis media. 
Infection and Immunity  1997;65(11):4696-4700.
Unencapsulated Haemophilus influenzae is the second most common etiologic agent of otitis media in children. H. influenzae requires heme for aerobic growth in vitro and is able to utilize hemoglobin and complexes of heme-hemopexin, heme-albumin, and hemoglobin-haptoglobin and ferritransferrin as sources of iron and heme in vitro. Several of the acquisition mechanisms have been characterized and been shown to be heme repressible in vitro. However, little is known about the expression of heme and/or iron acquisition mechanisms during infections in the middle ear. This study was performed to determine if the genes encoding heme and iron acquisition proteins are transcribed during in vivo growth and to compare these findings with those for samples grown in vitro. Reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) was used to analyze total RNA fractions derived from in vitro- and in vivo-grown H. influenzae. Genes encoding the transferrin-binding proteins TbpA and TbpB, the 100-kDa hemopexin-binding protein HxuA, and the hemoglobin-binding protein HgpA were transcribed during otitis media. Twelve middle ear fluid samples were analyzed by blind RT-PCR to determine the transcriptional status of these genes in H. influenzae during otitis media. Five isolates had transcripts corresponding to tbpA, tbpB, and hxuA. The presence of hgpA transcripts was variable, depending on the presence of hgpA in the genome of the H. influenzae isolate. Samples without H. influenzae gene transcripts contained other etiologic agents commonly causing otitis media. These data demonstrate that H. influenzae iron and/or heme acquisition genes are transcribed during otitis media and suggest that the microenvironment during acute otitis media starves H. influenzae of heme.
PMCID: PMC175673  PMID: 9353052
5.  Characterization of the Haemophilus influenzae tehB gene and its role in virulence 
Microbiology  2010;156(Pt 4):1188-1200.
The Haemophilus influenzae ORF designated HI1275 in the Rd KW20 genomic sequence encodes a putative S-adenosyl methyltransferase with significant similarity to tellurite-resistance determinants (tehB) in other species. While the H. influenzae tehB can complement an Escherichia coli tehB mutation, thus restoring tellurite resistance, its role in H. influenzae is unknown. In a previous study defining the iron and haem modulon of H. influenzae, we showed that transcription of this gene in H. influenzae Rd KW20 increases during growth in iron- and haem-restricted media. Since iron and haem uptake genes, and other known virulence factors, constitute the majority of the iron- and haem-regulated gene set, we postulated that tehB may play a role in nutrient acquisition and/or the virulence of H. influenzae. A tehB mutant was constructed in the H. influenzae type b strain 10810 and was evaluated for growth defects in various supplemented media, as well as for its ability to cause infection in rat models of infection. Deletion of tehB leads to an increase in sensitivity both to tellurite and to the oxidizing agents cumene hydroperoxide, tert-butyl hydroperoxide and hydrogen peroxide. The tehB mutant additionally showed a significantly reduced ability to utilize free haem as well as several haem-containing moieties including haem–human serum albumin, haemoglobin and haemoglobin–haptoglobin. Examination of the regulation kinetics indicated that transcription of tehB was independent of both tellurite exposure and oxidative stress. Paired comparisons of the tehB mutant and the wild-type H. influenzae strain 10810 showed that tehB is required for wild-type levels of infection in rat models of H. influenzae invasive disease. To our knowledge this is the first report of a role for tehB in virulence in any bacterial species. These data demonstrate that H. influenzae tehB plays a role in both resistance to oxidative damage and haem uptake/utilization, protects H. influenzae from tellurite exposure, and is important for virulence of this organism in an animal model of invasive disease.
PMCID: PMC2889444  PMID: 20075041
6.  Identification of a siderophore utilization locus in nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:113.
Haemophilus influenzae has an absolute aerobic growth requirement for either heme, or iron in the presence of protoporphyrin IX. Both iron and heme in the mammalian host are strictly limited in their availability to invading microorganisms. Many bacterial species overcome iron limitation in their environment by the synthesis and secretion of small iron binding molecules termed siderophores, which bind iron and deliver it into the bacterial cell via specific siderophore receptor proteins on the bacterial cell surface. There are currently no reports of siderophore production or utilization by H. influenzae.
Comparative genomics revealed a putative four gene operon in the recently sequenced nontypeable H. influenzae strain R2846 that encodes predicted proteins exhibiting significant identity at the amino acid level to proteins involved in the utilization of the siderophore ferrichrome in other bacterial species. No siderophore biosynthesis genes were identified in the R2846 genome. Both comparative genomics and a PCR based analysis identified several additional H. influenzae strains possessing this operon. In growth curve assays strains containing the genes were able to utilize ferrichrome as an iron source. H. influenzae strains lacking the operon were unable to obtain iron from ferrichrome. An insertional mutation in one gene of the operon abrogated the ability of strains to utilize ferrichrome. In addition transcription of genes in the identified operon were repressible by high iron/heme levels in the growth media.
We have identified an iron/heme-repressible siderophore utilization locus present in several nontypeable H. influenzae strains. The same strains do not possess genes encoding proteins associated with siderophore synthesis. The siderophore utilization locus may enable the utilization of siderophores produced by other microorganisms in the polymicrobial environmental niche of the human nasopharynx colonized by H. influenzae. This is the first report of siderophore utilization by H. influenzae.
PMCID: PMC2859871  PMID: 20398325
7.  Lipoprotein e(P4) is essential for hemin uptake by Haemophilus influenzae 
Heme uptake is a common means of iron and porphyrin acquisition by many pathogenic bacteria. The genus Haemophilus includes several important pathogenic bacterial species that characteristically require hemin-, protoporphyrin-, or heme-substituted proteins as essential growth factors under aerobic conditions. However, the mechanism of heme transport is not understood for Haemophilus. We have cloned a DNA fragment from H. influenzae that allows an Escherichia coli hemA mutant to employ exogenous hemin or protoporphyrin IX as sole sources of porphyrin. DNA sequencing of the cloned DNA fragment suggested that a previously characterized gene (hel) encoding an antigenic, outer membrane lipoprotein e(P4) was responsible for the complementation activity. Construction of hel insertion mutations in strain H. influenzae Rd demonstrated that hel is essential for growth under aerobic conditions but not under anaerobic conditions. The aerobic growth defect of hel mutants could be reversed by providing exogenous hemin in the presence of outer membrane. The analysis of hybrids between e(P4) and beta-lactamase demonstrated that a domain of e(P4) near its NH2' terminus was required for its function in hemin use. Within this domain is a short amino acid sequence that displays similarity to H. influenzae hemin binding protein HbpA, hemin-binding motifs present in eukaryotic transcription activator heme-activated protein, and the heme containing proteins hemoglobin (alpha-chain) and cytochrome C3, suggesting that this region may be involved in hemin binding and/or transport.
PMCID: PMC2192447  PMID: 8627173
8.  The role of the RNA chaperone Hfq in Haemophilus influenzae pathogenesis 
BMC Microbiology  2013;13:134.
The RNA binding protein Hfq of Haemophilus influenzae is highly homologous to Hfq from other bacterial species. In many of these other bacteria, Hfq affects the expression of a broad range of genes and enhances the ability to respond to stressful environments. However, the role of Hfq in H. influenzae is unknown.
Deletion mutants of hfq were generated in the nontypeable H. influenzae strains R2866 and 86-028NP to assess the role of Hfq in these well characterized but genotypically and phenotypically divergent clinical isolates. A deletion mutation of hfq had no effect on growth of H. influenzae in nutrient rich media and had no effect on survival in several stressful conditions in vitro. However, the mutation resulted in a reduced ability to utilize heme from hemoglobin. The mutant and wild type strains were assessed for virulence and competitive fitness in models of invasive disease and otitis media. In the chinchilla model of otitis media, the hfq mutant of 86-028NP exhibited impaired competitive fitness when compared to its wild type progenitor but exhibited no apparent defect in virulence. In the infant rat model, deletion of hfq in R2866 resulted in reduced bacterial titers in blood and a shorter duration of infection when compared to the wild type strain in the competitive fitness study.
We conclude that Hfq is involved in the utilization of essential nutrients and facilitates infection by H. influenzae.
PMCID: PMC3691723  PMID: 23767779
Haemophilus; Hfq; Pathogenesis; Otitis media; Bacteremia
9.  Complex Role of Hemoglobin and Hemoglobin-Haptoglobin Binding Proteins in Haemophilus influenzae Virulence in the Infant Rat Model of Invasive Infection▿  
Infection and Immunity  2006;74(11):6213-6225.
Haemophilus influenzae requires an exogenous heme source for aerobic growth in vitro. Hemoglobin or hemoglobin-haptoglobin satisfies this requirement. Heme acquisition from hemoglobin-haptoglobin is mediated by proteins encoded by hgp genes. Both Hgps and additional proteins, including those encoded by the hxu operon, provide independent pathways for hemoglobin utilization. Recently we showed that deletion of the set of three hgp genes from a nontypeable strain (86-028NP) of H. influenzae attenuated virulence in the chinchilla otitis media model of noninvasive disease. The present study was undertaken to investigate the role of the hgp genes in virulence of the wild-type serotype b clinical isolate HI689 in the infant rat model of hematogenous meningitis, an established model of invasive disease requiring aerobic growth. Bacteremia of high titer and long duration (>14 days) and histopathologically confirmed meningitis occurred in >95% of infant rats challenged at 5 days of age with strain HI689. While mutations disrupting either the Hgp- or Hxu-mediated pathway of heme acquisition had no effect on virulence in infant rats, an isogenic mutant deficient for both pathways was unable to sustain bacteremia or produce meningitis. In contrast, mutations disrupting either pathway decreased the limited ability of H. influenzae to initiate and sustain bacteremia in weanling rats. Biochemical and growth studies also indicated that infant rat plasma contains multiple heme sources that change with age. Taken together, these data indicate that both the hgp genes and the hxuC gene are virulence determinants in the rat model of human invasive disease.
PMCID: PMC1695506  PMID: 16966415
10.  Transcriptional Profile of Haemophilus influenzae: Effects of Iron and Heme 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(15):5640-5645.
Haemophilus influenzae requires either heme or a porphyrin and iron source for growth. Microarray studies of H. influenzae strain Rd KW20 identified 162 iron/heme-regulated genes, representing ∼10% of the genome, with ≥1.5-fold changes in transcription in response to iron/heme availability in vitro. Eighty genes were preferentially expressed under iron/heme restriction; 82 genes were preferentially expressed under iron/heme-replete conditions.
PMCID: PMC1540045  PMID: 16855256
11.  Heme Utilization by Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae Is Essential and Dependent on Sap Transporter Function▿† 
Journal of Bacteriology  2011;193(10):2527-2535.
Bacterial strategies of innate immune evasion and essential metabolic functions are critical for commensal-host homeostasis. Previously, we showed that Sap translocator function is necessary for nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHI) behaviors that mediate diseases of the human airway. Antimicrobial peptide (AP) lethality is limited by binding mediated by the Sap complex. SapA shares homology with the dipeptide-binding protein (DppA) and the heme-binding lipoprotein (HbpA), both of which have previously been shown to bind the iron-containing compound heme, whose acquisition is essential for Haemophilus survival. Computational modeling revealed conserved SapA residues, similarly modeled to mediate heme binding in HbpA. Here, we directly demonstrate that SapA bound heme and was essential for heme utilization by iron-starved NTHI. Further, the Sap translocator permease mediated heme transport into the bacterial cytoplasm, thus defining a heretofore unknown mechanism of intracytoplasmic membrane heme transport in Haemophilus. Since we demonstrate multiple ligand specificity for the SapA-binding protein, we tested whether APs would compete with heme for SapA binding. We showed that human β-defensins 2 and 3, human cathelicidin LL-37, human neutrophil protein 1, and melittin displaced heme bound to SapA, thus supporting a hierarchy wherein immune evasion supercedes even the needed iron acquisition functions of the Sap system.
PMCID: PMC3133164  PMID: 21441512
12.  Integration of Environmental Signals Controls Expression of Bordetella Heme Utilization Genes 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(4):938-948.
The Bordetella pertussis heme utilization gene cluster hurIR bhuRSTUV encodes regulatory and transport functions required for assimilation of iron from heme and hemoproteins. Expression of the bhu genes is iron regulated and heme inducible. The putative extracytoplasmic function (ECF) σ factor, HurI, is required for heme-responsive bhu gene expression. In this study, transcriptional activation of B. pertussis bhu genes in response to heme compounds was shown to be dose dependent and specific for heme; protoporphyrin IX and other heme structural analogs did not activate bhu gene expression. Two promoters controlling expression of the heme utilization genes were mapped by primer extension analysis. The hurI promoter showed similarity to σ70-like promoters, and its transcriptional activity was iron regulated and heme independent. A second promoter identified upstream of bhuR exhibited little similarity to previously characterized ECF σ factor-dependent promoters. Expression of bhuR was iron regulated, heme responsive, and hurI dependent in B. pertussis, as shown in a previous study with Bordetella bronchiseptica. Further analyses showed that transcription originating at a distal upstream site and reading through the hurR-bhuR intergenic region contributes to bhuR expression under iron starvation conditions in the absence of heme inducer. The pattern of regulation of the readthrough transcript was consistent with transcription from the hurI promoter. The positions and regulation of the two promoters within the hur-bhu gene cluster influence the production of heme transport machinery so that maximal expression of the bhu genes occurs under iron starvation conditions only in the presence of heme iron sources.
PMCID: PMC344224  PMID: 14761988
13.  A Bacillus anthracis S-Layer Homology Protein That Binds Heme and Mediates Heme Delivery to IsdC ▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(13):3503-3511.
The sequestration of iron by mammalian hosts represents a significant obstacle to the establishment of a bacterial infection. In response, pathogenic bacteria have evolved mechanisms to acquire iron from host heme. Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, utilizes secreted hemophores to scavenge heme from host hemoglobin, thereby facilitating iron acquisition from extracellular heme pools and delivery to iron-regulated surface determinant (Isd) proteins covalently attached to the cell wall. However, several Gram-positive pathogens, including B. anthracis, contain genes that encode near iron transporter (NEAT) proteins that are genomically distant from the genetically linked Isd locus. NEAT domains are protein modules that partake in several functions related to heme transport, including binding heme and hemoglobin. This finding raises interesting questions concerning the relative role of these NEAT proteins, relative to hemophores and the Isd system, in iron uptake. Here, we present evidence that a B. anthracis S-layer homology (SLH) protein harboring a NEAT domain binds and directionally transfers heme to the Isd system via the cell wall protein IsdC. This finding suggests that the Isd system can receive heme from multiple inputs and may reflect an adaptation of B. anthracis to changing iron reservoirs during an infection. Understanding the mechanism of heme uptake in pathogenic bacteria is important for the development of novel therapeutics to prevent and treat bacterial infections.
PMCID: PMC2897652  PMID: 20435727
14.  Haemophilus Responses to Nutritional Immunity: Epigenetic and Morphological Contribution to Biofilm Architecture, Invasion, Persistence and Disease Severity 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(10):e1003709.
In an effort to suppress microbial outgrowth, the host sequesters essential nutrients in a process termed nutritional immunity. However, inflammatory responses to bacterial insult can restore nutritional resources. Given that nutrient availability modulates virulence factor production and biofilm formation by other bacterial species, we hypothesized that fluctuations in heme-iron availability, particularly at privileged sites, would similarly influence Haemophilus biofilm formation and pathogenesis. Thus, we cultured Haemophilus through sequential heme-iron deplete and heme-iron replete media to determine the effect of transient depletion of internal stores of heme-iron on multiple pathogenic phenotypes. We observed that prior heme-iron restriction potentiates biofilm changes for at least 72 hours that include increased peak height and architectural complexity as compared to biofilms initiated from heme-iron replete bacteria, suggesting a mechanism for epigenetic responses that participate in the changes observed. Additionally, in a co-infection model for human otitis media, heme-iron restricted Haemophilus, although accounting for only 10% of the inoculum (90% heme-iron replete), represented up to 99% of the organisms recovered at 4 days. These data indicate that fluctuations in heme-iron availability promote a survival advantage during disease. Filamentation mediated by a SulA-related ortholog was required for optimal biofilm peak height and persistence during experimental otitis media. Moreover, severity of disease in response to heme-iron restricted Haemophilus was reduced as evidenced by lack of mucosal destruction, decreased erythema, hemorrhagic foci and vasodilatation. Transient restriction of heme-iron also promoted productive invasion events leading to the development of intracellular bacterial communities. Taken together, these data suggest that nutritional immunity, may, in fact, foster long-term phenotypic changes that better equip bacteria for survival at infectious sites.
Author Summary
Clinical management of upper and lower respiratory tract diseases caused by nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHI) is a significant socioeconomic burden. Therapies targeting the pathogenic lifestyle of NTHI remain non-existent due to a lack of understanding of host microenvironmental cues and bacterial responses that dictate NTHI persistence. Iron availability influences bacterial virulence traits and biofilm formation; yet, host sequestration of iron serves to restrict bacterial growth. We predicted that fluctuations in availability of iron-containing compounds, typically associated with infection, would impact NTHI pathogenesis. We demonstrated that transient restriction of heme-iron triggered an epigenetic developmental program that enhanced NTHI biofilm architecture, directly influenced by induced morphological changes in bacterial length. Heme-iron restricted bacteria were primed for survival in the mammalian middle ear, due in part to an observed reduction in host inflammation coinciding with a striking reduction in host mucosal epithelial damage, compared to that observed in response to heme-iron replete NTHI. Moreover, transiently restricted NTHI were more invasive of epithelial cells resulting in formation of intracellular bacterial communities. Our findings significantly advance our understanding of how host immune pressure and nutrient availability influence pathogenic behaviors that impact disease severity.
PMCID: PMC3795038  PMID: 24130500
15.  Identification of a locus involved in the utilization of iron by Haemophilus influenzae. 
Infection and Immunity  1994;62(10):4515-4525.
Haemophilus influenzae has an absolute requirement for heme for aerobic growth. This organism can satisfy this requirement by synthesizing heme from iron and protoporphyrin IX (PPIX). H. influenzae type b (Hib) strain DL42 was found to be unable to form single colonies when grown on a medium containing free iron and PPIX in place of heme. In contrast, the nontypeable H. influenzae (NTHI) strain TN106 grew readily on the same medium. A genomic library from NTHI strain TN106 was used to transform Hib strain DL42, and recombinants were selected on a medium containing iron and PPIX in place of heme. A recombinant plasmid with an 11.5-kb NTHI DNA insert was shown to confer on Hib strain DL42 the ability to grow on iron and PPIX. Nucleotide sequence analysis revealed that this NTHI DNA insert contained three genes, designated hitA, hitB, and hitC, which encoded products similar to the SfuABC proteins of Serratia marcescens, which have been shown to constitute a periplasmic binding protein-dependent iron transport system in this enteric organism. The NTHI HitA protein also was 69% identical to the ferric-binding protein of Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Inactivation of the cloned NTHI hitC gene by insertion of an antibiotic resistance cartridge eliminated the ability of the recombinant plasmid to complement the growth deficiency of Hib DL42. Construction of an isogenic NTHI TN106 mutant lacking a functional hitC gene revealed that this mutation prevented this strain from growing on a medium containing iron and PPIX in place of heme. This NTHI hitC mutant was also unable to utilize either iron bound to transferrin or iron chelates. These results suggest that the products encoded by the hitABC genes are essential for the utilization of iron by NTHI.
PMCID: PMC303138  PMID: 7927717
16.  The heme-binding protein (HbpA) of Haemophilus influenzae as a virulence determinant 
Haemophilus influenzae has an absolute growth requirement for heme and the heme-binding lipoprotein (HbpA) and has been implicated in the utilization of this essential nutrient. We constructed an insertional mutation of hbpA in a type b and a nontypeable H. influenzae strain. In the type b strain, the hbpA mutant was impaired in utilization of heme complexed to either hemopexin or to albumin and in the utilization of low levels of heme but not in the utilization of heme at high levels or of hemoglobin or hemoglobin–haptoglobin complexes. In contrast, the hbpA mutant derivative of the nontypeable strain was impaired in utilization of all tested heme sources. We further examined the impact of the hbpA mutation in animal models of H. influenzae disease. The hbpA mutant of the nontypeable strain was indistinguishable from the wild-type strain in the chinchilla model of otitis media. The hbpA mutant derivative of the type b strain caused bacteremia as well as the wild-type strain in 5-day old infant rats. However, in 30-day old rats the hbpA caused significantly lower rates of bacteremia than the wild-type strain indicating a role for hbpA and heme acquisition in virulence in this model of H. influenzae disease. In conclusion, HbpA is important for heme utilization by multiple H. influenzae strains and is a virulence determinant in a model of H. influenzae invasive disease.
PMCID: PMC2749905  PMID: 19451029
Haemophilus influenzae; Heme; Virulence
17.  Identification of a Two-Component Signal Transduction System from Corynebacterium diphtheriae That Activates Gene Expression in Response to the Presence of Heme and Hemoglobin 
Journal of Bacteriology  1999;181(17):5330-5340.
Corynebacterium diphtheriae, the causative agent of diphtheria, utilizes various host compounds to acquire iron. The C. diphtheriae hmuO gene encodes a heme oxygenase that is involved in the utilization of heme and hemoglobin as iron sources. Transcription of the hmuO gene in C. diphtheriae is controlled under a dual regulatory mechanism in which the diphtheria toxin repressor protein (DtxR) and iron repress expression while either heme or hemoglobin is needed to activate transcription. In this study, two clones isolated from a C. diphtheriae chromosomal library were shown to activate transcription from the hmuO promoter in Escherichia coli. Sequence analysis revealed that these activator clones each carried distinct genes whose products had significant homology to response regulators of two-component signal transduction systems. Located upstream from each of these response regulator homologs are partial open reading frames that are predicted to encode the C-terminal portions of sensor kinases. The full-length sensor kinase gene for each of these systems was cloned from the C. diphtheriae chromosome, and constructs each carrying one complete sensor kinase gene and its cognate response regulator were constructed. One of these constructs, pTSB20, which carried the response regulator (chrA) and its cognate sensor kinase (chrS), was shown to strongly activate transcription from the hmuO promoter in a heme-dependent manner in E. coli. A mutation in chrA (chrAD50N), which changed a conserved aspartic acid residue at position 50, the presumed site of phosphorylation by ChrS, to an asparagine, abolished heme-dependent activation. These findings suggest that the sensor kinase ChrS is involved in the detection of heme and the transduction of this signal, via a phosphotransfer mechanism, to the response regulator ChrA, which then activates transcription of the hmuO promoter. This is the first report of a bacterial two-component signal transduction system that controls gene expression through a heme-responsive mechanism.
PMCID: PMC94039  PMID: 10464204
18.  Utilization of host iron sources by Corynebacterium diphtheriae: identification of a gene whose product is homologous to eukaryotic heme oxygenases and is required for acquisition of iron from heme and hemoglobin. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(3):838-845.
Corynebacterium diphtheriae was examined for the ability to utilize various host compounds as iron sources. C. diphtheriae C7(-) acquired iron from heme, hemoglobin, and transferrin. A siderophore uptake mutant of strain C7 was unable to utilize transferrin but was unaffected in acquisition of iron from heme and hemoglobin, which suggests that C. diphtheriae possesses a novel mechanism for utilizing heme and hemoglobin as iron sources. Mutants of C. diphtheriae and Corynebacterium ulcerans that are defective in acquiring iron from heme and hemoglobin were isolated following chemical mutagenesis and streptonigrin enrichment. A recombinant clone, pCD293, obtained from a C7(-) genomic plasmid library complemented several of the C. ulcerans mutants and three of the C. diphtheriae mutants. The nucleotide sequence of the gene (hmuO) required for complementation was determined and shown to encode a protein with a predicted mass of 24,123 Da. Sequence analysis revealed that HmuO has 33% identity and 70% similarity with the human heme oxygenase enzyme HO-1. Heme oxygenases, which have been well characterized in eukaryotes but have not been identified in prokaryotes, are involved in the oxidation of heme and subsequent release of iron from the heme moiety. It is proposed that the HmuO protein is essential for the utilization of heme as an iron source by C. diphtheriae and that the heme oxygenase activity of HmuO is involved in the release of iron from heme. This is the first report of a bacterial gene whose product has homology to heme oxygenases.
PMCID: PMC178768  PMID: 9006041
19.  Resistance of Neisseria meningitidis to the Toxic Effects of Heme Iron and Other Hydrophobic Agents Requires Expression of ght 
Journal of Bacteriology  2005;187(15):5214-5223.
Several genetic systems that allow the use of iron-protoporphyrin IX (heme) have been described for the pathogenic bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. However, many questions about the process of heme acquisition and utilization remain to be answered. To isolate and analyze unidentified genes that play a role in heme iron uptake and utilization, a Himar1 transposon mutant library was screened in N. meningitidis serogroup A strain IR4162. One locus identified by transposon mutagenesis conferred protection against heme toxicity. A mutant with a deletion in a gene termed ght (gene of hydrophobic agent tolerance) within this locus was susceptible to heme and other hydrophobic agents compared to the parental strain. Transcriptional analysis indicated that ght is cotranscribed with an upstream open reading frame NMA2149. Uncharacterized orthologues of ght were identified in many other gram-negative bacteria. We present genetic evidence for the importance of ght in resistance to hydrophobic agents and its potential role in interaction with other hydrophobic agent resistance mechanisms within N. meningitidis.
PMCID: PMC1196014  PMID: 16030215
20.  The ChrA Response Regulator in Corynebacterium diphtheriae Controls Hemin-Regulated Gene Expression through Binding to the hmuO and hrtAB Promoter Regions 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(7):1717-1729.
Corynebacterium diphtheriae, the etiologic agent of diphtheria, utilizes heme and hemoglobin (Hb) as iron sources for growth. Heme-iron utilization involves HmuO, a heme oxygenase that degrades cytosolic heme, resulting in the release of heme-associated iron. Expression of the hmuO promoter is under dual regulation, in which transcription is repressed by DtxR and iron and activated by a heme source, such as hemin or Hb. Hemin-dependent activation is mediated primarily by the ChrAS two-component system, in which ChrS is a putative heme-responsive sensor kinase while ChrA is proposed to serve as a response regulator that activates transcription. It was recently shown that the ChrAS system similarly regulates the hrtAB genes, which encode an ABC transporter involved in the protection of C. diphtheriae from hemin toxicity. In this study, we characterized the phosphorelay mechanism in the ChrAS system and provide evidence for the direct regulation of the hmuO and hrtAB promoters by ChrA. A fluorescence staining method was used to show that ChrS undergoes autophosphorylation and that the phosphate moiety is subsequently transferred to ChrA. Promoter fusion studies identified regions upstream of the hmuO and hrtAB promoters that are critical for the heme-dependent regulation by ChrA. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays revealed that ChrA specifically binds at the hmuO and hrtAB promoter regions and that binding is phosphorylation dependent. A phosphorylation-defective mutant of ChrA [ChrA(D50A)] exhibited significantly diminished binding to the hmuO promoter region relative to that of wild-type ChrA. DNase I footprint analysis further defined the sequences in the hmuO and hrtAB promoters that are involved in ChrA binding, and this analysis revealed that the DtxR binding site at the hmuO promoter partially overlaps the binding site for ChrA. DNase I protection studies as well as promoter fusion analysis suggest that ChrA and DtxR compete for binding at the hmuO promoter. Collectively, these data demonstrate that the ChrA response regulator directly controls the expression of hmuO and the hrtAB genes and the binding activity of ChrA is dependent on phosphorylation by its cognate sensor kinase ChrS.
PMCID: PMC3302478  PMID: 22287525
21.  Utilization of Heme as an Iron Source by Marine Alphaproteobacteria in the Roseobacter Clade 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(18):5753-5762.
The bioavailability and utilization of porphyrin-bound iron, specifically heme, by marine microorganisms have rarely been examined. This study used Ruegeria sp. strain TrichCH4B as a model organism to study heme acquisition by a member of the Roseobacter clade. Analogs of known heme transporter proteins were found within the Ruegeria sp. TrichCH4B genome. The identified heme uptake and utilization system appears to be functional, as the heme genes were upregulated under iron stress, the bacterium could grow on ferric-porphyrin complexes as the sole iron source, and internalization of 55 Fe from ferric protoporphyrin IX was observed. The potential ability to utilize heme in the Roseobacter clade appears to be common, as half of the isolates in the RoseoBase database were found to have a complete heme uptake system. A degenerate primer set was designed and successfully used to identify the putative heme oxygenase gene (hmus) in the roseobacter heme uptake system from diverse nonenriched marine environments. This study found that members of the Roseobacter clade are capable of utilizing heme as an iron source and that this capability may be present in all types of marine environments. The results of this study add a new perspective to the current picture of iron cycling in marine systems, whereby relatively refractory intracellular pools of heme-bound iron may be taken up quickly and directly reincorporated into living bacteria without previous degradation or the necessity of a siderophore intermediate.
PMCID: PMC3754158  PMID: 23872569
22.  Bacterial heme-transport proteins and their heme-coordination modes 
Efficient iron acquisition is critical for an invading microbe’s survival and virulence. Most of the iron in mammals is incorporated into heme, which can be plundered by certain bacterial pathogens as a nutritional iron source. Utilization of exogenous heme by bacteria involves the binding of heme or hemoproteins to the cell surface receptors, followed by the transport of heme into cells. Once taken into the cytosol, heme is presented to heme oxygenases where the tetrapyrrole ring is cleaved in order to release the iron. Some Gram-negative bacteria also secrete extracellular heme-binding proteins called hemophores, which function to sequester heme from the environment. The heme transport genes are often genetically linked as gene clusters under Fur (Ferric uptake repressor) regulation. This review discusses the gene clusters and proteins involved in bacterial heme acquisition, transport and processing processes, with special focus on the heme coordination, protein structures and mechanisms underlying heme transport.
PMCID: PMC2683585  PMID: 18977196
Heme; transport; structure; bacteria; iron; pathogen
23.  A functional tonB gene is required for both utilization of heme and virulence expression by Haemophilus influenzae type b. 
Infection and Immunity  1994;62(6):2470-2477.
Haemophilus influenzae is nearly unique among facultatively anaerobic bacteria in its absolute requirement for exogenously supplied heme for aerobic growth. In this study, a mutant analysis strategy was used to facilitate identification of H. influenzae cell envelope components involved in the uptake of heme. Chemical mutagenesis was employed to produce a mutant of a nontypeable H. influenzae strain unable to utilize either protein-bound forms of heme or low levels of free heme. This mutant was transformed with a plasmid shuttle vector-based genomic library constructed from the same wild-type nontypeable H. influenzae strain, and a growth selection technique was used to obtain a recombinant clone that could utilize heme. Analysis of the DNA insert in the recombinant plasmid revealed the presence of several open reading frames, one of which encoded a 28-kDa protein with significant similarity to the TonB protein of Escherichia coli. This H. influenzae gene product was able to complement a tonB mutation in E. coli, allowing the E. coli tonB mutant to form single colonies on minimal medium containing vitamin B12. When this H. influenzae gene was inactivated by insertional mutagenesis techniques and introduced into the chromosome of wild-type strains of H. influenzae type b, the resultant transformants lost their abilities to utilize heme and produce invasive disease in an animal model. Genetic restoration of the ability to express this TonB homolog resulted in the simultaneous acquisition of both heme utilization ability and virulence. These results indicate that the H. influenzae TonB protein is required not only for heme utilization by this pathogen in vitro, but also for virulence of H. influenzae type b in an animal model.
PMCID: PMC186533  PMID: 8188372
24.  Transcription of the Corynebacterium diphtheriae hmuO gene is regulated by iron and heme. 
Infection and Immunity  1997;65(11):4634-4641.
The hmuO gene is required for the utilization of heme and hemoglobin as iron sources by Corynebacterium diphtheriae. The product of hmuO has homology to eukaryotic heme oxygenases which are involved in the degradation of heme and the release of iron. To investigate the mechanism of hmuO regulation, a promoterless lacZ gene present on the promoter-probe vector pCM502 was placed under transcriptional control of the hmuO promoter. In C. diphtheriae C7, optimal expression from the hmuO promoter was obtained only in the presence of heme or hemoglobin under low-iron conditions. Expression of hmuO in high-iron medium containing heme was repressed five- to sixfold from that seen under low-iron conditions in the presence of heme. Transcription from the hmuO promoter in the absence of heme or hemoglobin was fully repressed in high-iron medium and was expressed at very low levels in iron-depleted conditions. Expression studies with tile hmuO-lacZ fusion construct in C7hm723, a dtxR mutant of C7, and in a hmuO mutant of C. diphtheriae HC1 provided further evidence that transcription of the hmuO promoter is repressed by DtxR and iron and activated by heme. In Escherichia coli, the hmuO promoter was expressed at very low levels under all conditions examined. Gel mobility shift assays and DNase I footprinting experiments indicated that DtxR binds in a metal-dependent manner to a sequence that overlaps the putative hmuO promoter. Total cellular RNA isolated from C. diphtheriae was used to identify the transcriptional start site for the hmuO gene. Northern blot analysis suggested that the hmuO mRNA was monocistronic and that transcription was heme inducible.
PMCID: PMC175665  PMID: 9353044
25.  RhuR, an Extracytoplasmic Function Sigma Factor Activator, Is Essential for Heme-Dependent Expression of the Outer Membrane Heme and Hemoprotein Receptor of Bordetella avium  
Infection and Immunity  2004;72(2):896-907.
Genes involved in iron (Fe) acquisition often are regulated in response to the local availability of Fe. In many bacteria, Fe-dependent responsiveness is mediated by Fur, a global Fe-dependent transcriptional repressor. Tighter regulatory control of Fur-responsive genes is afforded by incorporating additional regulators into Fur-dependent regulatory cascades. RhuI, a Fur-dependent extracytoplasmic function sigma factor of Bordetella avium, in response to the dual stimulation of Fe starvation and the presence of heme (or hemoproteins), regulates PbhuR, a heme-responsive promoter which directs expression of the bhuRSTUV heme utilization operon. While BhuR, the outer membrane heme receptor, and RhuI have been shown to be indispensable for heme-dependent activation of PbhuR, collateral components of the regulatory cascade have not been described. In this investigation, RhuR, an integral cytoplasmic membrane protein with homology to anti-sigma factors, is shown to be an essential activator of PbhuR expression. The functional domain of RhuR required for heme-dependent activation of PbhuR expression was mapped to the N-terminal 97 amino acids of the protein by use of a chimeric RhuR-BlaM fusion. Expression of the chimera in a rhuR mutant rendered PbhuR constitutive, thereby decoupling the promoter from heme dependency. Growth studies confirmed that B. avium requires RhuR for optimal utilization of hemoglobin, but not hemin, as a sole source of nutrient Fe. These data imply that B. avium expresses, in addition to the BhuR heme/hemoprotein utilization system, an alternative RhuR-independent heme utilization mechanism. A model is proposed in which RhuR is the functional bridge between BhuR and RhuI in a heme-dependent regulatory cascade.
PMCID: PMC321627  PMID: 14742534

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