RNA thermometer controls temperature-dependent virulence factor expression in Vibrio cholerae

Gregor G. Weber, Jens Kortmann, Franz Narberhaus, Karl E. Klose

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52 Scopus citations


Vibrio cholerae is the bacterium that causes the diarrheal disease cholera. The bacteria experience a temperature shift as V. cholera transition from contaminated water at lower temperatures into the 37 °C human intestine. Within the intestine, V. cholerae express cholera toxin (CT) and toxin-coregulated pilus (TCP), two main virulence factors required for disease. CT and TCP expression is controlled by the transcriptional activator protein ToxT. We identified an RNA thermometer motif in the 5′ UTR of toxT, with a fourU anti-Shine-Dalgarno (SD) element that base pairs with the SD sequence to regulate ribosome access to the mRNA. RNA probing experiments demonstrated that the fourU element allowed access to the SD sequence at 37 °C but not at 20 °C. Moreover, mutations within the fourU element (U5C, U7C) that strengthened base-pairing between the anti-SD and SD sequences prevented access to the SD sequence even at 37 °C. Translation of ToxT-FLAG from the native toxT UTR was enhanced at 37 °C, compared with 25 °C in both Escherichia coli and V. cholerae. In contrast, the U5C, U7C UTR prevented translation of ToxT-FLAG even at 37 °C. V. cholerae mutants containing the U5C, U7C UTR variant were unable to colonize the infant mouse small intestine. Our results reveal a previously unknown regulatory mechanism consisting of an RNA thermometer that controls temperature-dependent translation of toxT, facilitating V. cholerae virulence at a relevant environmental condition found in the human intestine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14241-14246
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number39
StatePublished - Sep 30 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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