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1.  Control of Gene Expression at a Bacterial Leader RNA, the agn43 Gene Encoding Outer Membrane Protein Ag43 of Escherichia coli 
Journal of Bacteriology  2014;196(15):2728-2735.
The family of agn alleles in Escherichia coli pathovars encodes autotransporters that have been implicated in biofilm formation, autoaggregation, and attachment to cells. The alleles all have long leader RNAs preceding the Ag43 translation initiation codon. Here we present an analysis of the agn43 leader RNA from E. coli K-12. We demonstrate the presence of a rho-independent transcription terminator just 28 bp upstream of the main translation start codon and show that it is functional in vitro. Our data indicate that an as-yet-unknown mechanism of antitermination of transcription must be operative in earlier phases of growth. However, as bacterial cell cultures mature, progressively fewer transcripts are able to bypass this terminator. In the K-12 leader sequence, two in-frame translation initiation codons have been identified, one upstream and the other downstream of the transcription terminator. For optimal agn43 expression, both codons need to be present. Translation from the upstream start codon leads to increased downstream agn43 expression. Our findings have revealed two novel modes of regulation of agn43 expression in the leader RNA in addition to the previously well-characterized regulation of phase variation at the agn43 promoter.
PMCID: PMC4135670  PMID: 24837285
2.  Horizontally Acquired Glycosyltransferase Operons Drive Salmonellae Lipopolysaccharide Diversity 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(6):e1003568.
The immunodominant lipopolysaccharide is a key antigenic factor for Gram-negative pathogens such as salmonellae where it plays key roles in host adaptation, virulence, immune evasion, and persistence. Variation in the lipopolysaccharide is also the major differentiating factor that is used to classify Salmonella into over 2600 serovars as part of the Kaufmann-White scheme. While lipopolysaccharide diversity is generally associated with sequence variation in the lipopolysaccharide biosynthesis operon, extraneous genetic factors such as those encoded by the glucosyltransferase (gtr) operons provide further structural heterogeneity by adding additional sugars onto the O-antigen component of the lipopolysaccharide. Here we identify and examine the O-antigen modifying glucosyltransferase genes from the genomes of Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori serovars. We show that Salmonella generally carries between 1 and 4 gtr operons that we have classified into 10 families on the basis of gtrC sequence with apparent O-antigen modification detected for five of these families. The gtr operons localize to bacteriophage-associated genomic regions and exhibit a dynamic evolutionary history driven by recombination and gene shuffling events leading to new gene combinations. Furthermore, evidence of Dam- and OxyR-dependent phase variation of gtr gene expression was identified within eight gtr families. Thus, as O-antigen modification generates significant intra- and inter-strain phenotypic diversity, gtr-mediated modification is fundamental in assessing Salmonella strain variability. This will inform appropriate vaccine and diagnostic approaches, in addition to contributing to our understanding of host-pathogen interactions.
Author Summary
Bacterial pathogens frequently evolve mechanisms to vary the composition of their surface structures. The consequence is enhanced long-term survival by facilitating persistence and evasion of the host immune system. Salmonella sp., cause severe infections in a range of mammalian hosts and guard themselves with a protective coat, termed the O-antigen. Through genome sequence analyses we found that Salmonella have acquired an unprecedented repertoire of genetic sequences for modifying their O-antigen coat. There is strong evidence that these genetic factors have a dynamic evolutionary history and are spread through the bacterial population by bacteriophage. In addition to this genetic repertoire, we determined that Salmonella can and often do employ stochastic mechanisms for expression of these genetic factors. This means that O-antigen coat diversity can be generated within a Salmonella population that otherwise has a common genome. Our data significantly enhance our appreciation of the genetic and regulatory characteristics underpinning Salmonella O-antigen diversity. The role attributed to bacteriophage in generating this diversity highlights that Salmonella are acquiring an extensive repertoire of O-antigen modifying traits that may enhance the pathogen's ability to persist and cause disease in mammalian hosts. Such genetic traits may make useful markers for defining new epidemiological and diagnostic tools.
PMCID: PMC3688519  PMID: 23818865
3.  Establishing and Maintaining Sequestration of Dam Target Sites for Phase Variation of agn43 in Escherichia coli▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2010;192(7):1937-1945.
Phase variation of the outer membrane protein Ag43 encoded by agn43 in Escherichia coli is controlled by an epigenetic mechanism. Sequestration of the regulatory region from Dam-dependent methylation has to be established and maintained throughout a generation to obtain and maintain the OFF phase. This work shows that hemimethylated DNA, which is formed by the passage of the DNA replication fork in an ON-phase cell, can be sequestered from methylation by OxyR binding, which is thus a key event for the switch from ON to OFF. No evidence was found that the protein SeqA, which also binds to the region, is involved in sequestration. To facilitate the dissection of this process further, a novel approach was introduced that does not alter the sequence of the regulatory region or the cellular concentration of Dam or OxyR, which consists of inserting auxiliary OxyR binding sites upstream of the regulatory region. Using this strategy, it was shown that the ON-to-OFF switch frequency can be modulated without changing the OFF-to-ON frequency. The data support a model in which in an ON-phase cell, the subcellular OxyR availability at the replication fork as it passes through the agn43 regulatory region is key for initiating an ON-to-OFF switch. In contrast, this availability is not a determining factor for the switch from OFF to ON. This finding shows that different variables affect these two stochastic events. This provides new insight into the events determining the stochastic nature of epigenetic phase variation.
PMCID: PMC2838033  PMID: 20118257
4.  YhdJ, a Nonessential CcrM-Like DNA Methyltransferase of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica▿  
Journal of Bacteriology  2007;189(11):4325-4327.
The Caulobacter crescentus DNA adenine methyltransferase CcrM and its homologs in the α-Proteobacteria are essential for viability. CcrM is 34% identical to the yhdJ gene products of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica. This study provides evidence that the E. coli yhdJ gene encodes a DNA adenine methyltransferase. In contrast to an earlier report, however, we show that yhdJ is not an essential gene in either E. coli or S. enterica.
PMCID: PMC1913422  PMID: 17400740
5.  Phase and Antigenic Variation in Bacteria 
Clinical Microbiology Reviews  2004;17(3):581-611.
Phase and antigenic variation result in a heterogenic phenotype of a clonal bacterial population, in which individual cells either express the phase-variable protein(s) or not, or express one of multiple antigenic forms of the protein, respectively. This form of regulation has been identified mainly, but by no means exclusively, for a wide variety of surface structures in animal pathogens and is implicated as a virulence strategy. This review provides an overview of the many bacterial proteins and structures that are under the control of phase or antigenic variation. The context is mainly within the role of the proteins and variation for pathogenesis, which reflects the main body of literature. The occurrence of phase variation in expression of genes not readily recognizable as virulence factors is highlighted as well, to illustrate that our current knowledge is incomplete. From recent genome sequence analysis, it has become clear that phase variation may be more widespread than is currently recognized, and a brief discussion is included to show how genome sequence analysis can provide novel information, as well as its limitations. The current state of knowledge of the molecular mechanisms leading to phase variation and antigenic variation are reviewed, and the way in which these mechanisms form part of the general regulatory network of the cell is addressed. Arguments both for and against a role of phase and antigenic variation in immune evasion are presented and put into new perspective by distinguishing between a role in bacterial persistence in a host and a role in facilitating evasion of cross-immunity. Finally, examples are presented to illustrate that phase-variable gene expression should be taken into account in the development of diagnostic assays and in the interpretation of experimental results and epidemiological studies.
PMCID: PMC452554  PMID: 15258095
6.  Slipped-Strand Mispairing Can Function as a Phase Variation Mechanism in Escherichia coli 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(23):6990-6994.
Slipped-strand mispairing (SSM) has not been identified as a mechanism of phase variation in Escherichia coli. Using a reporter gene, we show that sequences that cause phase variation by SSM in Haemophilus influenzae also lead to phase variation when introduced onto the chromosome of E. coli, and the frequencies of switching are in the biologically relevant range. Thus, the absence of SSM-mediated phase variation in E. coli does not appear to be due to a mechanistic constraint.
PMCID: PMC262711  PMID: 14617664
7.  Phase Variation of Ag43 Is Independent of the Oxidation State of OxyR 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(7):2203-2209.
OxyR is a DNA binding protein that differentially regulates a cell's response to hydrogen peroxide-mediated oxidative stress. We previously reported that the reduced form of OxyR is sufficient for repression of transcription of agn43 from unmethylated template DNA, which is essential for deoxyadenosine methylase (Dam)- and OxyR-dependent phase variation of agn43. Here we provide evidence that the oxidized form of OxyR [OxyR(ox)] also represses agn43 transcription. In vivo, we found that exogenous addition of hydrogen peroxide, sufficient to oxidize OxyR, did not affect the expression of agn43. OxyR(ox) repressed in vitro transcription but only from an unmethylated agn43 template. The −10 sequence of the promoter and three Dam target sequences were protected in an in vitro DNase I footprint assay by OxyR(ox). Furthermore, OxyR(ox) bound to the agn43 regulatory region DNA with an affinity similar to that for the regulatory regions of katG and oxyS, which are activated by OxyR(ox), indicating that binding at agn43 can occur at biologically relevant concentrations. OxyR-dependent regulation of Ag43 expression is therefore unusual in firstly that OxyR binding at agn43 is dependent on the methylation state of Dam target sequences in its binding site and secondly that OxyR-dependent repression appears to be independent of hydrogen-peroxide mediated oxidative stress and the oxidation state of OxyR.
PMCID: PMC151510  PMID: 12644490
8.  Dam- and OxyR-Dependent Phase Variation of agn43: Essential Elements and Evidence for a New Role of DNA Methylation 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(12):3338-3347.
Phase variation of the outer membrane protein Ag43 in E. coli requires deoxyadenosine methylase (Dam) and OxyR. Previously, it was shown that OxyR is required for repression of the Ag43-encoding gene, agn43, and that Dam-dependent methylation of three GATC target sequences in the regulatory region abrogates OxyR binding. Here we report further characterization of agn43 transcription and its regulation. Transcription was initiated from a σ70-dependent promoter at the G residue of the upstream GATC sequence. Template DNA and RNA polymerase were sufficient to obtain transcription in vitro, but DNA methylation enhanced the level of transcription. Analyses of transcription in vivo of agn′-lacZ with mutated Dam target sequences support this conclusion. Since methylation also abrogates OxyR binding, this indicates that methylation plays a dual role in facilitating agn43 transcription. In vitro transcription from an unmethylated template was repressed by OxyR(C199S), which resembles the reduced form of OxyR. Consistent with this and the role of Dam in OxyR binding, OxyR(C199S) protected from DNase I digestion the agn43 regulatory region from −16 to +42, which includes the three GATC sequences. Deletion analyses of the regulatory region showed that a 101-nucleotide region of the agn43 regulatory region containing the promoter and this OxyR binding region was sufficient for Dam- and OxyR-dependent phase variation
PMCID: PMC135096  PMID: 12029051
9.  Formation of DNA Methylation Patterns: Nonmethylated GATC Sequences in gut and pap Operons 
Journal of Bacteriology  1998;180(22):5913-5920.
Most of the adenine residues in GATC sequences in the Escherichia coli chromosome are methylated by the enzyme deoxyadenosine methyltransferase (Dam). However, at least 20 GATC sequences remain nonmethylated throughout the cell cycle. Here we examined how the DNA methylation patterns of GATC sequences within the regulatory regions of the pyelonephritis-associated pilus (pap) operon and the glucitol utilization (gut) operon were formed. The results obtained with an in vitro methylation protection assay showed that the addition of the leucine-responsive regulatory protein (Lrp) to pap DNA was sufficient to protect the two GATC sequences in the pap regulatory region, GATC-I and GATC-II, from methylation by Dam. This finding was consistent with previously published data showing that Lrp was essential for methylation protection of these DNA sites in vivo. Methylation protection also occurred at a GATC site (GATC-44.5) centered 44.5 bp upstream of the transcription start site of the gutABD operon. Two proteins, GutR and the catabolite gene activator protein (CAP), bound to DNA sites overlapping the GATC-44.5-containing region of the gutABD operon. GutR, an operon-specific repressor, was essential for methylation protection in vivo, and binding of GutR protected GATC-44.5 from methylation in vitro. In contrast, binding of CAP at a site overlapping GATC-44.5 did not protect this site from methylation. Mutational analyses indicated that gutABD gene regulation was not controlled by methylation of GATC-44.5, in contrast to regulation of Pap pilus expression, which is directly controlled by methylation of the pap GATC-I and GATC-II sites.
PMCID: PMC107665  PMID: 9811649

Results 1-9 (9)