Non-typhoidal Salmonellae are the leading cause of bacterial food borne gastroenteritis causing hundreds of millions cases of diarrhea and hundreds of thousands deaths world wide each year. The majority of cases originate from consumption of contaminated food products, but some are from direct contact with infected animals or people. Despite many years of study, the strategies used by this pathogen to survive within the gastrointestinal tract of natural hosts are poorly understood. In prior studies, I screened a pool of targeted gene deletion mutants of Salmonella Typhimurium in the bovine ligated ileal loop model, the model most closely mimicking human gastroenteritis. Among 31 novel candidate mutants under selection in this model, I identified a reverse transcriptase (STM3846, rrtT). I confirmed the fitness defect of a deletion mutant in STM3846 using competitive infection and complementation in both bovine and murine models of enterocolitis. In my preliminary data, I show that this enzyme is required to produce a multi-copy single-stranded DNA (msDNA) that is a unique RNA-DNA hybrid molecule of 85 nucleotides. The necessary elements for msDNA production are encoded in an operon termed a """"""""retron"""""""" in many different bacterial species, and include msr (encoding the RNA primer), msd (template for reverse transcription) and a reverse transcriptase. Lack of a phenotype for mutants unable to make msDNA was a critical roadblock preventing identification of the natural function of this molecule despite more than 30 years of study. I have discovered that msDNA is essential for survival of Salmonella Typhimurium in the mammalian intestine, in anaerobic conditions, and at low temperature in vitro. These are the first phenotypes of msDNA mutants identified in any bacterial organism. With these phenotypes in hand, I am uniquely poised to identify functional regions of this molecule and to test hypotheses regarding its critical molecular tasks. To accomplish these goals, I will (1) elucidate the portion of msDNA from STm that has activity both in vitro and during infection, (2) investigate the function of msr by generating targeted mutations and determining the functionality of mutant msr both in vitro and during infection, and (3) determine the effect of expression of msDNA on global transcription and protein levels. This work will determine the key functional regions of msDNA and test hypotheses regarding its natural function. Because the msDNA molecule itself is totally novel and is clearly necessary during infection, this work will illuminate a novel paradigm in bacterial pathogenesis. This unique RNA-DNA hybrid molecule represents a novel antimicrobial target for treatment of this important zoonotic pathogen either through inhibition of the molecule itself or the reverse transcriptase necessary for its production.

Public Health Relevance

Salmonella is a leading cause of food borne illness, causing ~1.4 million cases of gastroenteritis per year but how it survives in the gut is poorly understood. The work in this proposal will directly impact public health by providing novel targets for the development of new therapies to treat Salmonella in humans and in livestock.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Clinical Investigator Award (CIA) (K08)
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Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Research Committee (MID)
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Alexander, William A
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Texas A&M University
Schools of Medicine
College Station
United States
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Elfenbein, Johanna R; Knodler, Leigh A; Nakayasu, Ernesto S et al. (2015) Multicopy Single-Stranded DNA Directs Intestinal Colonization of Enteric Pathogens. PLoS Genet 11:e1005472