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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.  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
3.  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
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.  Protein sources of heme for Haemophilus influenzae. 
Infection and Immunity  1987;55(1):148-153.
Although Haemophilus influenzae requires heme for growth, the source of heme during invasive infections is not known. We compared heme, lactoperoxidase, catalase, cytochrome c, myoglobin, and hemoglobin as sources of heme for growth in defined media. The minimum concentration of heme permitting unrestricted growth of strain E1a, an H. influenzae type b isolate from cerebrospinal fluid, was 0.02 micrograms/ml. Using molar equivalents of heme as lactoperoxidase, catalase, cytochrome c, myoglobin, and hemoglobin, we determined that myoglobin and hemoglobin permitted unrestricted growth at this concentration. To determine the ability of host defenses to sequester heme from H. influenzae, we used affinity chromatography to purify human haptoglobin and hemopexin, serum proteins which bind hemoglobin and heme. Plate assays revealed that 12 strains of H. influenzae acquired heme from hemoglobin, hemoglobin-haptoglobin, heme-hemopexin, and heme-albumin. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of outer membrane proteins of strain E1a grown in heme-replete and heme-restricted conditions revealed a heme-repressible outer membrane protein with an apparent molecular mass of 38 kilodaltons. These results demonstrated that, unlike Escherichia coli, H. influenzae may acquire heme from hemoglobin-haptoglobin. H. influenzae also may acquire heme from hemopexin and albumin, which have not been previously investigated. The role of outer membrane proteins in the acquisition of heme is not yet clear.
PMCID: PMC260293  PMID: 3025098
6.  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
7.  Genome-Wide Analysis Reveals Novel Genes Essential for Heme Homeostasis in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(7):e1001044.
Heme is a cofactor in proteins that function in almost all sub-cellular compartments and in many diverse biological processes. Heme is produced by a conserved biosynthetic pathway that is highly regulated to prevent the accumulation of heme—a cytotoxic, hydrophobic tetrapyrrole. Caenorhabditis elegans and related parasitic nematodes do not synthesize heme, but instead require environmental heme to grow and develop. Heme homeostasis in these auxotrophs is, therefore, regulated in accordance with available dietary heme. We have capitalized on this auxotrophy in C. elegans to study gene expression changes associated with precisely controlled dietary heme concentrations. RNA was isolated from cultures containing 4, 20, or 500 µM heme; derived cDNA probes were hybridized to Affymetrix C. elegans expression arrays. We identified 288 heme-responsive genes (hrgs) that were differentially expressed under these conditions. Of these genes, 42% had putative homologs in humans, while genomes of medically relevant heme auxotrophs revealed homologs for 12% in both Trypanosoma and Leishmania and 24% in parasitic nematodes. Depletion of each of the 288 hrgs by RNA–mediated interference (RNAi) in a transgenic heme-sensor worm strain identified six genes that regulated heme homeostasis. In addition, seven membrane-spanning transporters involved in heme uptake were identified by RNAi knockdown studies using a toxic heme analog. Comparison of genes that were positive in both of the RNAi screens resulted in the identification of three genes in common that were vital for organismal heme homeostasis in C. elegans. Collectively, our results provide a catalog of genes that are essential for metazoan heme homeostasis and demonstrate the power of C. elegans as a genetic animal model to dissect the regulatory circuits which mediate heme trafficking in both vertebrate hosts and their parasites, which depend on environmental heme for survival.
Author Summary
Heme is an iron-containing cofactor for proteins involved in many critical cellular processes. However, free heme is toxic to cells, suggesting that heme synthesis, acquisition, and transport is highly regulated. Efforts to understand heme trafficking in multicellular organisms have failed primarily due to the inability to separate the processes of endogenous heme synthesis from heme uptake and transport. Caenorhabditis elegans is unique among model organisms because it cannot synthesize heme but instead eats environmental heme to grow and develop normally. Thus, worms are an ideal genetic animal model to study heme homeostasis. This work identifies a novel list of 288 heme-responsive genes (hrgs) in C. elegans and a number of related genes in humans and medically relevant parasites. Knocking down the function of each of these hrgs reveals roles for several in heme uptake, transport, and detection within the organism. Our study provides insights into metazoan regulation of organismal heme homeostasis. The identification of parasite-specific hrg homologs may permit the selective design and screening of drugs that specifically target heme uptake pathways in parasites without affecting the host. Thus, this work has therapeutic implications for the treatment of human iron deficiency, one of the top ten mortality factors world-wide.
PMCID: PMC2912396  PMID: 20686661
8.  The bhuQ Gene Encodes a Heme Oxygenase That Contributes to the Ability of Brucella abortus 2308 To Use Heme as an Iron Source and Is Regulated by Irr 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(15):4052-4058.
The Brucella BhuQ protein is a homolog of the Bradyrhizobium japonicum heme oxygenases HmuD and HmuQ. To determine if this protein plays a role in the ability of Brucella abortus 2308 to use heme as an iron source, an isogenic bhuQ mutant was constructed and its phenotype evaluated. Although the Brucella abortus bhuQ mutant DCO1 did not exhibit a defect in its capacity to use heme as an iron source or evidence of increased heme toxicity in vitro, this mutant produced increased levels of siderophore in response to iron deprivation compared to 2308. Introduction of a bhuQ mutation into the B. abortus dhbC mutant BHB2 (which cannot produce siderophores) resulted in a severe growth defect in the dhbC bhuQ double mutant JFO1 during cultivation under iron-restricted conditions, which could be rescued by the addition of FeCl3, but not heme, to the growth medium. The bhuQ gene is cotranscribed with the gene encoding the iron-responsive regulator RirA, and both of these genes are repressed by the other major iron-responsive regulator in the alphaproteobacteria, Irr. The results of these studies suggest that B. abortus 2308 has at least one other heme oxygenase that works in concert with BhuQ to allow this strain to efficiently use heme as an iron source. The genetic organization of the rirA-bhuQ operon also provides the basis for the proposition that BhuQ may perform a previously unrecognized function by allowing the transcriptional regulator RirA to recognize heme as an iron source.
PMCID: PMC3416563  PMID: 22636783
9.  HapX Positively and Negatively Regulates the Transcriptional Response to Iron Deprivation in Cryptococcus neoformans 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001209.
The fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans is a major cause of illness in immunocompromised individuals such as AIDS patients. The ability of the fungus to acquire nutrients during proliferation in host tissue and the ability to elaborate a polysaccharide capsule are critical determinants of disease outcome. We previously showed that the GATA factor, Cir1, is a major regulator both of the iron uptake functions needed for growth in host tissue and the key virulence factors such as capsule, melanin and growth at 37°C. We are interested in further defining the mechanisms of iron acquisition from inorganic and host-derived iron sources with the goal of understanding the nutritional adaptation of C. neoformans to the host environment. In this study, we investigated the roles of the HAP3 and HAPX genes in iron utilization and virulence. As in other fungi, the C. neoformans Hap proteins negatively influence the expression of genes encoding respiratory and TCA cycle functions under low-iron conditions. However, we also found that HapX plays both positive and negative roles in the regulation of gene expression, including a positive regulatory role in siderophore transporter expression. In addition, HapX also positively regulated the expression of the CIR1 transcript. This situation is in contrast to the negative regulation by HapX of genes encoding GATA iron regulatory factors in Aspergillus nidulans and Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Although both hapX and hap3 mutants were defective in heme utilization in culture, only HapX made a contribution to virulence, and loss of HapX in a strain lacking the high-affinity iron uptake system did not cause further attenuation of disease. Therefore, HapX appears to have a minimal role during infection of mammalian hosts and instead may be an important regulator of environmental iron uptake functions. Overall, these results indicated that C. neoformans employs multiple strategies for iron acquisition during infection.
Author Summary
Cryptococcus neoformans causes life-threatening central nervous system infections in immunocompromised people such as AIDS patients. The competition for iron between pathogens such as C. neoformans and mammalian hosts is a key aspect of disease outcome. We previously identified and characterized the major iron regulatory protein Cir1 in C. neoformans, as well as proteins for the transport of iron-binding molecules (siderophores) and for high-affinity iron uptake. In this study, we examined the roles of additional regulatory proteins (Hap proteins) in the response to low-iron conditions and the use of host iron sources such as heme and transferrin. We discovered that the HapX protein has a conserved regulatory function to repress iron-dependent functions during iron deprivation, as well as a positive regulatory role for the expression of putative siderophore transporters. A hapX mutant was defective in the use of heme as an iron source in culture but was only modestly attenuated for virulence in mice. This result suggests that additional mechanisms for iron uptake must be available to support C. neoformans proliferation in the host, and that HapX may play an important role in environmental iron acquisition.
PMCID: PMC2991262  PMID: 21124817
10.  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
11.  Identification and characterization of an iron-regulated hemopexin receptor in Haemophilus influenzae type b. 
Infection and Immunity  1994;62(1):48-59.
Heme can serve Haemophilus influenzae as a source of both essential porphyrin and iron. In extracellular mammalian body fluids neither free heme nor free iron is available, since they are tightly bound to hemopexin and transferrin, respectively. Since H. influenzae grows in the presence of iron-transferrin and heme-hemopexin and is known to express a saturable receptor for transferrin, we investigated the process by which this pathogen acquired heme from hemopexin for use as an iron source. The ability of human and rabbit hemopexin to donate heme as a source of iron to H. influenzae type b strains was demonstrated by plate bioassays. With a dot enzyme assay with biotinylated hemopexin as ligand, H. influenzae bound heme-hemopexin and apo-hemopexin following growth in iron-restricted, but not in iron-sufficient, medium. Competitive binding studies with heme-hemopexin and apo-hemopexin demonstrated saturability of binding. Neither heme, protoporphyrin IX, hemoglobin, nor transferrin blocked the binding of hemopexin to whole cells, demonstrating the specificity of binding. Treatment of whole H. influenzae cells with trypsin abolished binding. Taken together, these observations suggest that H. influenzae type b expresses an outer membrane protein(s) which acts as a receptor for hemopexin and which is regulated by the availability of iron in the growth medium. In iron-restricted media, H. influenzae 706705 and DL42 did not express the 100-kDa hemopexin-binding protein previously reported (M.S. Hanson, S.E. Pelzel, J. Latimer, U. Muller-Eberhard, and E.J. Hansen, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 89:1973-1977, 1992). The putative iron-regulated hemopexin receptor was solubilized from cell envelopes of H. influenzae 706705, DL42, and Eagan with the detergent CHAPS (3-[(3-cholamidopropyl)-dimethyl-ammonio]-1-propanesulfonate) and isolated by affinity chromatography on heme-hemopexin-Sepharose 4B. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the proteins bound to the affinity resin revealed three proteins of 29, 38, and 57 kDa, of which the 57- and 29-kDa proteins bound hemopexin after Western blotting (immunoblotting). A monoclonal antibody to the 57-kDa hemopexin-binding protein of 706705 recognized a 57-kDa protein on Western blots of the cell envelope proteins of 706705, DL42, and Eagan; no reaction was observed with the 100-kDa hemopexin-binding protein of DL42. These data suggest that some H. influenzae strains possess at least two hemopexin receptors, the expression of which is determined by the prevailing growth environment.
PMCID: PMC186066  PMID: 8262649
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.  Staphylococcus aureus Redirects Central Metabolism to Increase Iron Availability 
PLoS Pathogens  2006;2(8):e87.
Staphylococcus aureus pathogenesis is significantly influenced by the iron status of the host. However, the regulatory impact of host iron sources on S. aureus gene expression remains unknown. In this study, we combine multivariable difference gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry with multivariate statistical analyses to systematically cluster cellular protein response across distinct iron-exposure conditions. Quadruplicate samples were simultaneously analyzed for alterations in protein abundance and/or post-translational modification state in response to environmental (iron chelation, hemin treatment) or genetic (Δfur) alterations in bacterial iron exposure. We identified 120 proteins representing several coordinated biochemical pathways that are affected by changes in iron-exposure status. Highlighted in these experiments is the identification of the heme-regulated transport system (HrtAB), a novel transport system which plays a critical role in staphylococcal heme metabolism. Further, we show that regulated overproduction of acidic end-products brought on by iron starvation decreases local pH resulting in the release of iron from the host iron-sequestering protein transferrin. These findings reveal novel strategies used by S. aureus to acquire scarce nutrients in the hostile host environment and begin to define the iron and heme-dependent regulons of S. aureus.
Virtually all bacterial pathogens require iron to successfully infect their human hosts. This presents a problem to invading bacteria because the majority of iron in humans is tightly bound by iron-binding proteins. To counteract this host defense, bacterial pathogens have developed elaborate mechanisms to acquire nutrient iron during infection. To gain insight into how the amount of available iron impacts the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, the authors identified proteins that increase or decrease abundance upon alterations in iron status. The authors found that under conditions of iron starvation, the Fur regulatory protein of S. aureus coordinates a redirection of the central metabolic pathways causing the bacteria to produce large amounts of acidic end-products. The accumulation of these acidic end-products facilitates the release of iron from host iron-binding proteins, in effect increasing the availability of this precious nutrient source. These findings provide a mechanistic explanation for how S. aureus alters its local microenvironment during infection to increase the availability of nutrient iron. Based on the well-established role for bacterial iron acquisition during pathogenesis, systems involved in iron acquisition represent excellent potential therapeutic targets against bacterial infection.
PMCID: PMC1557832  PMID: 16933993
14.  Global transcriptional response of Caulobacter crescentus to iron availability 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:549.
In the alpha subclass of proteobacteria iron homeostasis is controlled by diverse iron responsive regulators. Caulobacter crescentus, an important freshwater α-proteobacterium, uses the ferric uptake repressor (Fur) for such purpose. However, the impact of the iron availability on the C. crescentus transcriptome and an overall perspective of the regulatory networks involved remain unknown.
In this work we report the identification of iron-responsive and Fur-regulated genes in C. crescentus using microarray-based global transcriptional analyses. We identified 42 genes that were strongly upregulated both by mutation of fur and by iron limitation condition. Among them, there are genes involved in iron uptake (four TonB-dependent receptor gene clusters, and feoAB), riboflavin biosynthesis and genes encoding hypothetical proteins. Most of these genes are associated with predicted Fur binding sites, implicating them as direct targets of Fur-mediated repression. These data were validated by β-galactosidase and EMSA assays for two operons encoding putative transporters. The role of Fur as a positive regulator is also evident, given that 27 genes were downregulated both by mutation of fur and under low-iron condition. As expected, this group includes many genes involved in energy metabolism, mostly iron-using enzymes. Surprisingly, included in this group are also TonB-dependent receptors genes and the genes fixK, fixT and ftrB encoding an oxygen signaling network required for growth during hypoxia. Bioinformatics analyses suggest that positive regulation by Fur is mainly indirect. In addition to the Fur modulon, iron limitation altered expression of 113 more genes, including induction of genes involved in Fe-S cluster assembly, oxidative stress and heat shock response, as well as repression of genes implicated in amino acid metabolism, chemotaxis and motility.
Using a global transcriptional approach, we determined the C. crescentus iron stimulon. Many but not all of iron responsive genes were directly or indirectly controlled by Fur. The iron limitation stimulon overlaps with other regulatory systems, such as the RpoH and FixK regulons. Altogether, our results showed that adaptation of C. crescentus to iron limitation not only involves increasing the transcription of iron-acquisition systems and decreasing the production of iron-using proteins, but also includes novel genes and regulatory mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3751524  PMID: 23941329
Caulobacter crescentus; Iron stimulon; Fur regulon; Transcriptome; Iron homeostasis; TonB-dependent receptor
15.  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
16.  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
17.  HutZ Is Required for Efficient Heme Utilization in Vibrio cholerae 
Journal of Bacteriology  2004;186(13):4142-4151.
Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera, requires iron for growth. One mechanism by which it acquires iron is the uptake of heme, and several heme utilization genes have been identified in V. cholerae. These include three distinct outer membrane receptors, two TonB systems, and an apparent ABC transporter to transfer heme across the inner membrane. However, little is known about the fate of the heme after it enters the cell. In this report we show that a novel heme utilization protein, HutZ, is required for optimal heme utilization. hutZ (open reading frame [ORF] VCA0907) is encoded with two other genes, hutW (ORF VCA0909) and hutX (ORF VCA0908), in an operon divergently transcribed from the tonB1 operon. A hutZ mutant grew poorly when heme was provided as the sole source of iron, and the poor growth was likely due to the failure to use heme efficiently as a source of iron, rather than to heme toxicity. Heme oxygenase mutants of both Corynebacterium diphtheriae and C. ulcerans fail to use heme as an iron source. When the hutWXZ genes were expressed in the heme oxygenase mutants, growth on heme was restored, and hutZ was required for this effect. Biochemical characterization indicated that HutZ binds heme with high efficiency; however, no heme oxygenase activity was detected for this protein. HutZ may act as a heme storage protein, and it may also function as a shuttle protein that increases the efficiency of heme trafficking from the membrane to heme-containing proteins.
PMCID: PMC421608  PMID: 15205415
18.  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
19.  The Bordetella bhu Locus Is Required for Heme Iron Utilization 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(14):4278-4287.
Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella bronchiseptica are capable of obtaining iron from hemin and hemoglobin. Genes encoding a putative bacterial heme iron acquisition system (bhu, for Bordetella heme utilization) were identified in a B. pertussis genomic sequence database, and the corresponding DNA was isolated from a virulent strain of B. pertussis. A B. pertussis bhuR mutant, predicted to lack the heme outer membrane receptor, was generated by allelic exchange. In contrast to the wild-type strain, bhuR mutant PM5 was incapable of acquiring iron from hemin and hemoglobin; genetic complementation of PM5 with the cloned bhuRSTUV genes restored heme utilization to wild-type levels. In parallel studies, B. bronchiseptica bhu sequences were also identified and a B. bronchiseptica bhuR mutant was constructed and confirmed to be defective in heme iron acquisition. The wild-type B. bronchiseptica parent strain grown under low-iron conditions produced the presumptive BhuR protein, which was absent in the bhuR mutant. Furthermore, production of BhuR by iron-starved B. bronchiseptica was markedly enhanced by culture in hemin-supplemented medium, suggesting that these organisms sense and respond to heme in the environment. Analysis of the genetic region upstream of the bhu cluster identified open reading frames predicted to encode homologs of the Escherichia coli ferric citrate uptake regulators FecI and FecR. These putative Bordetella regulators may mediate heme-responsive positive transcriptional control of the bhu genes.
PMCID: PMC95318  PMID: 11418569
20.  Characterization of a Gene Family Encoding SEA (Sea-urchin Sperm Protein, Enterokinase and Agrin)-Domain Proteins with Lectin-Like and Heme-Binding Properties from Schistosoma japonicum 
We previously identified a novel gene family dispersed in the genome of Schistosoma japonicum by retrotransposon-mediated gene duplication mechanism. Although many transcripts were identified, no homolog was readily identifiable from sequence information.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here, we utilized structural homology modeling and biochemical methods to identify remote homologs, and characterized the gene products as SEA (sea-urchin sperm protein, enterokinase and agrin)-domain containing proteins. A common extracellular domain in this family was structurally similar to SEA-domain. SEA-domain is primarily a structural domain, known to assist or regulate binding to glycans. Recombinant proteins from three members of this gene family specifically interacted with glycosaminoglycans with high affinity, with potential implication in ligand acquisition and immune evasion. Similar approach was used to identify a heme-binding site on the SEA-domain. The heme-binding mode showed heme molecule inserted into a hydrophobic pocket, with heme iron putatively coordinated to two histidine axial ligands. Heme-binding properties were confirmed using biochemical assays and UV-visible absorption spectroscopy, which showed high affinity heme-binding (KD = 1.605×10−6 M) and cognate spectroscopic attributes of hexa-coordinated heme iron. The native proteins were oligomers, antigenic, and are localized on adult worm teguments and gastrodermis; major host-parasite interfaces and site for heme detoxification and acquisition.
The results suggest potential role, at least in the nucleation step of heme crystallization (hemozoin formation), and as receptors for heme uptake. Survival strategies exploited by parasites, including heme homeostasis mechanism in hemoparasites, are paramount for successful parasitism. Thus, assessing prospects for application in disease intervention is warranted.
Author Summary
While isolating membrane-bound and secreted proteins as targets for Schistosoma japonicum vaccine, we identified a novel potentially functional gene family which had originated by a gene duplication mechanism. Here, we integrated structural homology modeling and biochemical methods to show that this gene family encodes proteins with sea-urchin sperm protein, enterokinase and agrin (SEA) –domain, with heme-binding properties. Typical of SEA-structural domains, the characterized proteins specifically interacted with glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), with implication in ligand gathering and immune-evasion. Consistent with modeled heme-binding pocket, we observed high affinity heme-binding and spectroscopic attributes of hexa-coordinated heme iron. Localization of the native gene-products on adult worm tegument and gastrodermis, host interfaces for heme-sequestration and acquisition, suggests potential roles for this gene family in heme-detoxification and heme-iron uptake.
PMCID: PMC3886910  PMID: 24416467
21.  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
22.  Identification and Characterization of HtsA, a Second Heme-Binding Protein Made by Streptococcus pyogenes  
Infection and Immunity  2003;71(10):5962-5969.
Group A streptococci (GAS) can use heme and hemoproteins as sources of iron. However, the machinery for heme acquisition in GAS has not been firmly revealed. Recently, we identified a novel heme-associated cell surface protein (Shp) made by GAS. The shp gene is cotranscribed with eight downstream genes, including spy1795, spy1794, and spy1793 encoding a putative ABC transporter (designated HtsABC). In this study, spy1795 (designated htsA) was cloned from a serotype M1 strain, and recombinant HtsA was overexpressed in Escherichia coli and purified to homogeneity. HtsA binds 1 heme molecule per molecule of protein. HtsA was produced in vitro and localized to the bacterial cell surface. GAS up-regulated transcription of htsA in human blood compared with that in Todd-Hewitt broth supplemented with 0.2% yeast extract. The level of the htsA transcript dramatically increased under metal cation-restricted conditions compared with that under metal cation-replete conditions. The cation content, cell surface location, and gene transcription of HtsA were also compared with those of MtsA and Spy0385, the lipoprotein components of two other putative iron acquisition ABC transporters of GAS. Our results suggest that HtsABC is an ABC transporter that may participate in heme acquisition in GAS.
PMCID: PMC201091  PMID: 14500516
23.  Shigella dysenteriae ShuS Promotes Utilization of Heme as an Iron Source and Protects against Heme Toxicity 
Journal of Bacteriology  2005;187(16):5658-5664.
Shigella dysenteriae serotype 1, a major cause of bacillary dysentery in humans, can use heme as a source of iron. Genes for the transport of heme into the bacterial cell have been identified, but little is known about proteins that control the fate of the heme molecule after it has entered the cell. The shuS gene is located within the heme transport locus, downstream of the heme receptor gene shuA. ShuS is a heme binding protein, but its role in heme utilization is poorly understood. In this work, we report the construction of a chromosomal shuS mutant. The shuS mutant was defective in utilizing heme as an iron source. At low heme concentrations, the shuS mutant grew slowly and its growth was stimulated by either increasing the heme concentration or by providing extra copies of the heme receptor shuA on a plasmid. At intermediate heme concentrations, the growth of the shuS mutant was moderately impaired, and at high heme concentrations, shuS was required for growth on heme. The shuS mutant did not show increased sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide, even at high heme concentrations. ShuS was also required for optimal utilization of heme under microaerobic and anaerobic conditions. These data are consistent with the model in which ShuS binds heme in a soluble, nontoxic form and potentially transfers the heme from the transport proteins in the membrane to either heme-containing or heme-degrading proteins. ShuS did not appear to store heme for future use.
PMCID: PMC1196095  PMID: 16077111
24.  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
25.  The Escherichia coli Protein YfeX Functions as a Porphyrinogen Oxidase, Not a Heme Dechelatase 
mBio  2011;2(6):e00248-11.
The protein YfeX from Escherichia coli has been proposed to be essential for the process of iron removal from heme by carrying out a dechelation of heme without cleavage of the porphyrin macrocycle. Since this proposed reaction is unique and would represent the first instance of the biological dechelation of heme, we undertook to characterize YfeX. Our data reveal that YfeX effectively decolorizes the dyes alizarin red and Cibacron blue F3GA and has peroxidase activity with pyrogallal but not guiacol. YfeX oxidizes protoporphyrinogen to protoporphyrin in vitro. However, we were unable to detect any dechelation of heme to free porphyrin with purified YfeX or in cellular extracts of E. coli overexpressing YfeX. Additionally, Vibrio fischeri, an organism that can utilize heme as an iron source when grown under iron limitation, is able to grow with heme as the sole source of iron when its YfeX homolog is absent. Plasmid-driven expression of YfeX in V. fischeri grown with heme did not result in accumulation of protoporphyrin. We propose that YfeX is a typical dye-decolorizing peroxidase (or DyP) and not a dechelatase. The protoporphyrin reported to accumulate when YfeX is overexpressed in E. coli likely arises from the intracellular oxidation of endogenously synthesized protoporphyrinogen and not from dechelation of exogenously supplied heme. Bioinformatic analysis of bacterial YfeX homologs does not identify any connection with iron acquisition but does suggest links to anaerobic-growth-related respiratory pathways. Additionally, some genes encoding homologs of YfeX have tight association with genes encoding a bacterial cytoplasmic encapsulating protein.
Acquisition of iron from the host during infection is a limiting factor for growth and survival of pathogens. Host heme is the major source of iron in infections, and pathogenic bacteria have evolved complex mechanisms to acquire heme and abstract the iron from heme. Recently Létoffé et al. (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 106:11719–11724, 2009) reported that the protein YfeX from E. coli is able to dechelate heme to remove iron and leave an intact tetrapyrrole. This is totally unlike any other described biological system for iron removal from heme and, thus, would represent a dramatically new feature with potentially profound implications for our understanding of bacterial pathogenesis. Given that this reaction has no precedent in biological systems, we characterized YfeX and a related protein. Our data clearly demonstrate that YfeX is not a dechelatase as reported but is a peroxidase that oxidizes endogenous porphyrinogens to porphyrins.
PMCID: PMC3215433  PMID: 22068980

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