Vibrio cholerae causes the fatal epidemic diarrhea! disease cholera. The expression of its primary virulence factors, toxin-coregulated pilus and cholera toxin, occurs via a transcriptional cascade involving several activator proteins and serves as a paradigm for the regulation of bacterial virulence. AphA and AphB initiate the expression of the cascade by a novel interaction at the tcpPH promoter. AphA is a member of a new regulator family and AphB is a LysR-type activator, one of the largest transcriptional regulatory families. Once expressed, cooperation between TcpP/TcpH and the homologous transmembrane activators ToxR/ToxS activates the toxT promoter. ToxT, an AraC-type regulator, then directly activates the promoters of the primary virulence factors. Transcriptional activation at these various promoters occurs only in response to certain environmental stimuli. One such stimulus, cell density, influences the virulence cascade through the quorum sensing system regulator HapR which represses the expression of the aphA promoter. The long term goals of this proposal are to understand the molecular basis of virulence gene regulation so as to facilitate the development of better strategies to prevent and cure bacterial diseases. Achieving these goals requires an understanding of how the specific regulatory proteins function at their cognate promoters to control gene expression and, ultimately, how they are influenced by environmental stimuli. Through a collaborative effort of laboratories with expertise in structural biology, virulence gene regulation and pathogenesis, we have obtained the crystal structure of AphA at 2.2 A resolution. Its structure reveals the presence of a winged-helix DMA binding domain and a topologically unique dimerization domain.
Aim 1 focuses on obtaining high resolution structures of (1) AphA with its cognate binding site, (2) AphB alone and in the presence of its cognate binding site, and (3) AphA and AphB together in a ternary complex with DNA. In addition, specific structural predictions will be tested using site-directed mutagenesis.
Aims 2 and 3 focus on obtaining high resolution structures of ToxT and HapR in the absence and presence of their binding sites and mutagenesis will also be carried out to test structural predictions. This proposed work will significantly increase our understanding of how these proteins regulate virulence gene expression in order to facilitate efforts to identify new molecules that interfere with their functions and which may serve as novel antivirulence drugs.
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