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The VirSR Two-Component Signal Transduction System Regulates NetB Toxin Production in Clostridium perfringens

Cheung, Jackie K., Keyburn, Anthony L., Carter, Glen P., Lanckriet, Anouk L., Van Immerseel, Filip, Moore, Robert J., Rood, Julian I.
Infection and immunity 2010 v.78 no.7 pp. 3064-3072
Clostridium perfringens, DNA, binding sites, chickens, cytotoxicity, enzymes, gastrointestinal system, hepatoma, mutation, necrotic enteritis, operon, pathogenesis, phenotype, poultry industry, reporter genes, sequence analysis, signal transduction, toxins, virulence
Clostridium perfringens causes several diseases in domestic livestock, including necrotic enteritis in chickens, which is of concern to the poultry industry due to its health implications and associated economic cost. The novel pore-forming toxin NetB is a critical virulence factor in the pathogenesis of this disease. In this study, we have examined the regulation of NetB toxin production. In C. perfringens, the quorum sensing-dependent VirSR two-component signal transduction system regulates genes encoding several toxins and extracellular enzymes. Analysis of the sequence upstream of the netB gene revealed the presence of potential DNA binding sites, or VirR boxes, that are recognized by the VirR response regulator. In vitro binding experiments showed that purified VirR was able to recognize and bind to these netB-associated VirR boxes. Furthermore, using a reporter gene assay, the netB VirR boxes were shown to be functional. Mutation of the virR gene in two avian C. perfringens strains was shown to significantly reduce the production of the NetB toxin; culture supernatants derived from these strains were no longer cytotoxic to Leghorn male hepatoma cells. Complementation with the virRS operon restored the toxin phenotypes to wild type. The results also showed that the VirSR two-component system regulates the expression of netB at the level of transcription. We postulate that in the gastrointestinal tract of infected birds, NetB production is upregulated when the population of C. perfringens cells reaches a threshold level that leads to activation of the VirSR system.