Pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella enterica contain horizontally acquired DNA on plasmids or genomic islands that play a critically important role in host-pathogen interactions. Most virulence genes are regulated at the level of transcription in order to be coordinately expressed under specific environmental conditions. Classical models of transcriptional regulation involve regulated binding of specific DNA sequences by proteins that interact with RNA polymerase to activate or repress gene expression. Our studies of a Nucleoid-Associated Protein (NAP) called H-NS have recently shown that many horizontally acquired virulence genes are controlled by an alternative paradigm in which intrinsic transcriptional silencing by NAPs that bind DNA with relatively low specificity is countered by the actions of other DNA binding proteins. The latter are comprised of classical transcriptional activators, repressors, and alternative sigma factors. This model, designated "xenogeneic silencing," provides a mechanism by which the potentially deleterious impact of horizontally acquired sequences can be minimized by silencing, and newly acquired genes are subsequently integrated into pre-existing regulatory networks through counter-silencing. DNA binding proteins such as PhoP, SlyA, OmpR, SsrB and ?S (RpoS) are known to be essential for Salmonella virulence. We propose that many, if not most, genetic loci regulated by these proteins are in fact controlled by counter-silencing mechanisms. This application aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of silencing and counter-silencing by biochemically analyzing the transcriptional regulation of individual genes and relating expression to interactions between NAPs and counter-silencing proteins. We hypothesize that counter-silencing proteins act by relieving NAP-induced DNA stiffening to facilitate RNA polymerase open complex formation or by overcoming open complex trapping by NAPs.
The specific aims are: 1. Determination of Transcriptional Regulatory Mechanisms in the PhoP Regulon. The prototypical Salmonella PhoP regulon will be subjected to bioinformatic and functional analysis to distinguish genetic loci controlled by direct activation and those controlled by counter-silencing mechanisms. 2.Analysis of Silencing and Counter-Silencing Mechanisms for Selected PhoP-dependent Genes. Individual counter-silenced genes from the PhoP regulon will be analyzed using biochemical and biophysical methods to determine the functional and mechanical consequences of DNA binding by NAPs (H-NS, StpA) and counter-silencing by the PhoP and SlyA proteins. 3. Characterization of Counter-Silencing by the Alternative Sigma Factor ?S. Genetic loci co-regulated by H-NS and ?S will be subjected to functional, biochemical and biophysical analysis and compared with counter-silencing by PhoP and SlyA.

Public Health Relevance

Salmonella is a pathogen of global importance, causing costly food-borne outbreaks of gastroenteritis as well as potentially lethal systemic infections. This project expands the concept of xenogeneic silencing in pathogenic bacteria, a conceptual breakthrough our lab has discovered in the understanding of regulatory network evolution and control of virulence gene expression. Characterizing the molecular mechanisms of virulence gene expression will have broad implications for Salmonella and many other human pathogens, many uncover new antibiotic targets, and provide new avenues for more effective treatment of bacterial infections.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section (BACP)
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Alexander, William A
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University of Washington
Schools of Medicine
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Will, W Ryan; Navarre, William W; Fang, Ferric C (2015) Integrated circuits: how transcriptional silencing and counter-silencing facilitate bacterial evolution. Curr Opin Microbiol 23:13-Aug
Fang, Ferric C; Weiss, G√ľnter (2014) Iron ERRs with Salmonella. Cell Host Microbe 15:515-6
Will, W Ryan; Bale, Denise H; Reid, Philip J et al. (2014) Evolutionary expansion of a regulatory network by counter-silencing. Nat Commun 5:5270