Structural study of ExsA, the regulator of Type III Secretion System of Pseudomonas aeruginosa
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The Type III secretion system (T3SS) of Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses a needle-like protein apparatus to detect eukaryotic host cells and translocate effectors directly into the host cell. The effectors are also known as cytotoxins, which cause disruption of a series of signaling events in the host cell, facilitating the infection by P. aeruginosa. As the T3SS is antigenic and the expression of T3SS is energy-consuming, it is highly regulated where several regulatory proteins interact with each other and control the expression of T3SS genes. Among these proteins, ExsA, the master regulator of T3SS in P. aeruginosa, is of great importance as it is a transcriptional activator that activates the expression of all T3SS genes. Also, as ExsA belongs to the AraC protein family which only exists in bacteria and fungi, it makes an excellent potential target for drugs against P. aeruginosa related infections. With a combination of molecular biology tools and structural biology methods, we solved the N-terminal domain structure of the ExsA protein in P. aeruginosa. The model of the ExsA N-terminal domain has enriched our knowledge about ExsA dimerization and can serve as the base for mapping the interaction interfaces on ExsA and ExsD. Further, we have found two homologues of ExsA by structural alignment, which share a lot of similarities and have conserved amino acid residues that are important for ligand binding. The fact that both of these two proteins are regulated by small ligands rather than proteins also raises the possibility that ExsA may have a second regulatory mechanism under which ExsA is regulated by a small ligand, which so far has not been observed or reported by researchers. In order to map the binding site of ExsA on its anti-activator ExsD, we removed the coiled-coil region (amino acid residue 138-202, the potential binding site) of ExsD, based on the structure of ExsD. We surprisingly found that the ExsD variant without the coiled-coil region readily inhibits ExsA-dependent in vitro transcription. This result rules out other possibilities and makes us focus on the N-terminus and adjacent regions of ExsD for the interface with ExsA. Moreover, in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of the regulation of T3SS in P. aeruginosa, we have begun to build a mathematical model of the T3SS regulatory pathways. We are measuring the cellular concentrations of T3SS regulatory proteins with quantitative molecular biology methods such as quantitative western blot, quantitative PCR and quantitative mass spectrometry. We have determined the cellular level of ExsA and ExsD proteins under different physiological conditions, and found that some factors such as temperature have a significant impact on the levels of ExsA and ExsD. This study has thus unveiled some unknown features of the T3SS of P. aeruginosa and its related infections.
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