Self-Association Is Required for Occupation of Adjacent Binding Sites in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Type III Secretion System Promoters
ExsA is a member of the AraC/XylS family of transcriptional regulators and is required for expression of the Pseudomonas aeruginosa type III secretion system (T3SS). All P. aeruginosa T3SS promoters contain two adjacent binding sites for monomeric ExsA. The amino-terminal domain of ExsA (NTD) is thought to mediate interactions between the ExsA monomers bound to each site. Threading the NTD onto the AraC backbone revealed an alpha-helix that likely serves as the primary determinant for dimerization. In this study, we performed alanine scanning mutagenesis of the ExsA alpha-helix (residues 136 to 152) to identify determinants required for self-association. Residues L137, C139, L140, K141, and L148 exhibited self-association defects and were required for maximal activation by ExsA. Disruption of self-association resulted in decreased binding to T3SS promoters, particularly loss of binding by the second ExsA monomer. Removing the NTD or increasing the space between the ExsA-binding sites restored the ability of the second ExsA monomer to bind the P-exsC promoter. This finding indicated that, in the absence of self-association, the NTD prevents binding by a second monomer. Similar findings were seen with the P-exoT promoter; however, binding of the second ExsA monomer in the absence of self-association also required the presence of a high-affinity site 2. Based on these data, ExsA self-association is necessary to overcome inhibition by the NTD and to compensate for low-affinity binding sites, thereby allowing for full occupation and activation of ExsA-dependent promoters. Therefore, ExsA self-association is indispensable and provides an attractive target for antivirulence therapies.