Thermosensing Coordinates a Cis-regulatory Module for Transcriptional Activation of the Intracellular Virulence System in Salmonella enterica Serovar Typhimurium
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The expression of bacterial virulence genes is tightly controlled by the convergence of multiple extracellular signals. As a zoonotic pathogen, virulence gene regulation in Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium must be responsive to multiple cues from the general environment as well as from multiple niches within animal and human hosts. Previous work has identified combined magnesium and phosphate limitation as an environmental cue that activates genes required for intracellular virulence. One unanswered question is how virulence genes that are expressed within the host are inhibited in non-host environments that satisfy the phosphate and magnesium limitation cues. We report here that thermosensing is the major mechanism controlling incongruous activation of the intracellular virulence phenotype. Bacteria grown at 30 degrees C or lower were unable to activate the intracellular type III secretion system even under strong inducing signals such as synthetic medium, contact with macrophages, and exposure to the murine gut. Thermoregulation was fully recapitulated in a Salmonella bongori strain engineered to contain the intracellular virulence genes of S. enterica sv. Typhimurium, suggesting that orthologous thermoregulators were available. Accordingly, virulence gene repression at the nonpermissive temperature required Hha and H-NS, two nucleoid-like proteins involved in virulence gene control. The use of combined environmental cues to control transcriptional "logic gates" allows for transcriptional selectivity of virulence genes that would otherwise be superfluous if activated in the non-host environment. Thus, thermosensing by Salmonella provides integrated control of host niche-specific virulence factors.
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