The Gram-positive, spore-forming pathogen Bacillus anthracis is the aetiological agent of anthrax. Its main virulence factors are two toxins and an anti-phagocytic capsule. When B. anthracis is grown in laboratory culture, the highest expression of the anthrax toxin genes occurs during entry into stationary phase, suggesting that nutrient limitation is an environmental cue which induces toxin production. A common bacterial response to starvation is the so-called stringent response, in which the hyperphosphorylated guanosine nucleotide (p)ppGpp is the effector molecule. In Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis and other bacteria, accumulation of this molecule leads to down-regulation of stable RNA synthesis and upregulation of the expression of genes involved in survival under nutrient-poor conditions. This study focuses on the stringent response of B. anthracis. We show that in B. anthracis the relA gene is responsible for the synthesis of (p)ppGpp and the stringent down-regulation of stable RNA synthesis upon starvation for the essential amino acids isoleucine, leucine and valine. The deletion of relA did not affect the expression of the virulence gene pagA or virulence in a mouse model of infection. In contrast, spore counts upon growth and sporulation in a defined medium were approximately 10,000-fold lower for the relA deletion mutant than for the parental strain. The contribution of the stringent response to efficient sporulation of B. anthracis is notable, as this suggests that the stringent response may contribute to the persistence of B. anthracis in the natural environment.
"Consistent with other studies, we found that the expression of atxA itself is not increased as significantly as the genes it stimulates, if at all, when B. anthracis is grown in environments containing increased concentrations of CO2[11,12,16]. AtxA is regulated downstream of transcription by a number of CO2-related processes [20,22-24,60], and our data provide further evidence that this regulation alone is sufficient to account for its transcriptional effects on virulence-related genes. Our data also provide insights into two novel small RNAs that are strongly associated with the combined presence of CO2 and AtxA. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Upon infection of a mammalian host, Bacillus anthracis responds to host cues, and particularly to elevated temperature (37[degree sign]C) and bicarbonate/CO2 concentrations, with increased expression of virulence factors that include the anthrax toxins and extracellular capsular layer. This response requires the presence of the pXO1 virulence plasmid-encoded pleiotropic regulator AtxA. To better understand the genetic basis of this response, we utilized a controlled in vitro system and Next Generation sequencing to determine and compare RNA expression profiles of the parental strain and an isogenic AtxA-deficient strain in a 2 x 2 factorial design with growth environments containing or lacking carbon dioxide.
We found 15 pXO1-encoded genes and 3 chromosomal genes that were strongly regulated by the separate or synergistic actions of AtxA and carbon dioxide. The majority of the regulated genes responded to both AtxA and carbon dioxide rather than to just one of these factors. Interestingly, we identified two previously unrecognized small RNAs that are highly expressed under physiological carbon dioxide concentrations in an AtxA-dependent manner. Expression levels of the two small RNAs were found to be higher than that of any other gene differentially expressed in response to these conditions. Secondary structure and small RNA-mRNA binding predictions for the two small RNAs suggest that they may perform important functions in regulating B. anthracis virulence.
A majority of genes on the virulence plasmid pXO1 that are regulated by the presence of either CO2 or AtxA separately are also regulated synergistically in the presence of both. These results also elucidate novel pXO1-encoded small RNAs that are associated with virulence conditions.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Like for all microbes, the goal of every pathogen is to survive and replicate. However, to overcome the formidable defenses of their hosts, pathogens are also endowed with traits commonly associated with virulence, such as surface attachment, cell or tissue invasion, and transmission. Numerous pathogens couple their specific virulence pathways with more general adaptations, like stress resistance, by integrating dedicated regulators with global signaling networks. In particular, many of nature's most dreaded bacteria rely on nucleotide alarmones to cue metabolic disturbances and coordinate survival and virulence programs. Here we discuss how components of the stringent response contribute to the virulence of a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Spores are the infectious form of Bacillus anthracis (BA), causing cutaneous, inhalation and gastrointestinal anthrax. Because of the possible use of BA spores in a bioterrorism attack, there is considerable interest in studying spore biology. In the laboratory, however, it takes a number of days to prepare spores. Standard sporulation protocols, such as the use of 'PA broth', allow sporulation of BA to occur in 3 to 5 days. Another method employs growth of BA on plates in the dark for several days until they have efficiently sporulated. In efforts to determine the effect of iron on gene expression in BA, we grew BA Sterne strain 7702 in a minimal defined medium (CDM; Koppisch et al., 2005) with various concentrations of iron and glucose. As part of our initial observations, we monitored BA sporulation in CDM via light microscopy. In glucose-free CDM containing 1.5mM Fe(NO(3))(3) (CDM-Fe), >95% of the BA sporulated by 30 h; a far shorter time period than expected. We pursued this observation and we further characterized spores derived from PA and CDM-Fe media. Purified spores derived from PA or CDM-Fe had similar morphologies when viewed by light or electron microscopy, and were equally resistant to harsh conditions including heat (65 degrees C), ice and fresh 30% H(2)O(2). Spore viability in long term cold storage in water was similar for the two spore preparations. Extracted spore coat proteins were evaluated by SDS-PAGE and silver staining, which revealed distinct protein profiles for PA and CDM-Fe spore coat extracts. ELISA assays were done to compare the interaction of the two spore preparations with rabbit antiserum raised against UV-killed Sterne strain 7702 spores prepared in PA medium. Spores from both media reacted identically with this antiserum. Finally, the interaction and fate of spores incubated with macrophages in vitro was very similar. In summary, BA spores induced in CDM-Fe or in PA medium are similar by several criteria, but show distinct extractable coat proteins. CDM-Fe liquid medium can be used for rapid production of BA spores, and could save considerable time in spore research studies.
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