Characterization of the VtlR regulons in Brucella abortus and Agrobacterium tumefaciens
Budnick, James Andrew
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Brucella abortus and Agrobacterium tumefaciens are pathogenic bacteria that infect animals and plants, respectively. These bacteria are genetically similar and are found within the same Class, Alphaproteobacteria, and Order, Rhizobiales, of the domain Eubacteria; however, they survive and replicate in vastly different environmental niches. In Order to adapt to different environments, bacteria utilize several mechanisms of gene regulation to tightly control gene expression. Two of these mechanisms include transcriptional regulators and small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs), which can activate and repress gene expression through various interactions with DNA, mRNA, and proteins. A well-conserved transcriptional regulator among the Rhizobiales is VtlR, a virulence-associated transcriptional LysR regulator. The objectives of this dissertation were three fold: 1) characterize the known regulon of VtlR in B. abortus with regards to gene regulatory function and virulence, 2) determine the regulon of VtlR in A. tumefaciens and define the mechanism by which this regulation occurs, and 3) define the role of an ABC-type transport system indirectly regulated by VtlR in B. abortus that putatively imports the non-proteinogenic amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). VtlR was characterized in B. abortus as a virulence-associated transcriptional regulator that directly activates four genes: the sRNA AbcR2, and the three small hypothetical proteins BAB1_0914, BAB2_0512, and BAB2_0574; and deletion of vtlR led to a significant defect in the ability of B. abortus to cause infection in vitro and in vivo. Since dysregulation of abcR2 alone could not account for the defect in virulence, it was hypothesized that one or all three hypothetical proteins could be responsible for a virulence phenotype observed in ΔvtlR. This turned out to not be the case, as a deletion of the entire VtlR regulon displayed no difference in virulence compared to the parental strain. Further characterization of the small hypothetical proteins is outlined in Chapter 2 and the data revealed bona fide translation of each small protein, and the deletion strain of the VtlR regulon displayed a growth defect when grown in the presence of the sugar fucose. This phenotype was subsequently observed in ΔvtlR as well. This led to the identification of a putative fucose transport and metabolism locus in B. abortus that has yet to be studied. In A. tumefaciens, VtlR is necessary for proper attachment to plant cells and biofilm formation and regulates over 200 genes, significantly more than the four genes VtlR regulates in B. abortus. The mechanism by which this occurs was unknown, and the relationship between VtlR and AbcR1 or AbcR2 was uncharacterized. The data in Chapter 3 outline the VtlR network by showing that VtlR regulation of myriad genes in A. tumefaciens is primarily indirect via the direct regulation of a few sRNAs. This direct interaction was shown experimentally and a VtlR binding box was identified in the A. tumefaciens genome. This project outlines the divergence of a regulatory element between phylogenetically related organisms that occupy different environmental niches. The AbcR sRNAs are conserved throughout the Rhizobiales and regulate numerous ABC-type transport systems within these bacteria. In A. tumefaciens, one of these transport systems specifically transports the amino acds proline and GABA. B. abortus contains homologs of this system, which led to the hypothesis that the brucellae may also transport GABA but for a yet unknown purpose. The data in Chapter 4 revealed that B. abortus also transports GABA in vitro and this transport is under the regulation of AbcR1 and AbcR2. This transport was increased under extreme nutrient limitations and was uninhibited by the presence of other amino acids. Metabolic studies showed GABA is not utilized by B. abortus under aerobic conditions, and transcriptomic data revealed increased expression of several loci in the presence of GABA. Altogether, this study uncovers a putative signaling role for the amino acid GABA that has been understudied in bacterial pathogens that infect animal hosts. Overall, the work presented in this dissertation is focused on further elucidating the biological role of downstream regulatory targets of both VtlR and the sRNAs AbcR1 and AbcR2 in the related organisms Brucella abortus and Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Findings show that while there are similarities between the two systems, there are also many differences that may be attributed to the vastly different lifestyles of each organism.
- Doctoral Dissertations