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Agrobacterium tumefaciens ExoR Controls Acid Response Genes and Impacts Exopolysaccharide Synthesis, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and Virulence Gene Expression

Heckel, Brynn C., Tomlinson, Amelia D., Morton, Elise R., Choi, Jeong-Hyeon, Fuqua, Clay
Journal of bacteriology 2014 v.196 no.18 pp. 3221-3233
ABC transporters, Agrobacterium radiobacter, bacteriology, biofilm, biosynthesis, crown galls, exopolysaccharides, gene expression, gene expression regulation, horizontal gene transfer, models, mutants, phenotype, plant pathogens, plant tissues, regulon, secretion, virulence
Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a facultative plant pathogen and the causative agent of crown gall disease. The initial stage of infection involves attachment to plant tissues, and subsequently, biofilms may form at these sites. This study focuses on the periplasmic ExoR regulator, which was identified based on the severe biofilm deficiency of A. tumefaciens exoR mutants. Genome-wide expression analysis was performed to elucidate the complete ExoR regulon. Overproduction of the exopolysaccharide succinoglycan is a dramatic phenotype of exoR mutants. Comparative expression analyses revealed that the core ExoR regulon is unaffected by succinoglycan synthesis. Several findings are consistent with previous observations: genes involved in succinoglycan biosynthesis, motility, and type VI secretion are differentially expressed in the ΔexoR mutant. In addition, these studies revealed new functional categories regulated by ExoR, including genes related to virulence, conjugation of the pAtC58 megaplasmid, ABC transporters, and cell envelope architecture. To address how ExoR exerts a broad impact on gene expression from its periplasmic location, a genetic screen was performed to isolate suppressor mutants that mitigate the exoR motility phenotype and identify downstream components of the ExoR regulatory pathway. This suppression analysis identified the acid-sensing two-component system ChvG-ChvI, and the suppressor mutant phenotypes suggest that all or most of the characteristic exoR properties are mediated through ChvG-ChvI. Subsequent analysis indicates that exoR mutants are simulating a response to acidic conditions, even in neutral media. This work expands the model for ExoR regulation in A. tumefaciens and underscores the global role that this regulator plays on gene expression.