Characterization of the Activation of the FlgSR Two-Component System in Campylobacter Jejuni




Joslin, Stephanie Nicole

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Epidemiological studies indicate that Campylobacter jejuni is the leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide. This organism has the ability to live as a commensal or a pathogen, depending on the host with which it is associated. While colonization of the gastrointestinal tract of many avian and mammalian species results in a harmless commensal relationship, human infection can cause diarrheal disease. In both scenarios flagellar motility is crucial for promoting optimal host interactions, as non-motile C. jejuni colonize the gastrointestinal tracts of commensal hosts at levels significantly lower than motile isolates and are incapable of causing disease in humans. The means by which C. jejuni regulates flagellar gene transcription and assembly differ from the well-studied pathways in species of Salmonella, E. coli, and Vibrio. Previous studies found that C. jejuni requires the flagellar export apparatus, sigma54, and a two-component regulatory system comprised of the FlgS sensor kinase and the FlgR response regulator to activate transcription of the middle and late sigma54-dependent flagellar genes. The FlgR response regulator is an NtrC-like protein that can be divided into three domains: an N-terminal domain that is phosphorylated by FlgS, a central sigma54 interaction domain, and a C-terminal domain of unknown function. Characterization of FlgR was accomplished by generating constructs that lack the N- or C-terminal domains of the protein and the site of phosphorylation. Through genetic and biochemical analyses, we found that both the N- and C-terminal domains have suppressive functions that prevent FlgR activation of sigma54-dependent flagellar gene transcription in the absence of FlgS. Our data also indicate that unlike other NtrC-family proteins, the C-terminus of FlgR does not bind DNA and is dispensable for FlgR activity. The FlgS sensor kinase activates FlgR through phosphorylation, but little was known about its activation prior to these studies. We have identified the site of FlgS autophosphorylation and demonstrated that formation of the flagellar export apparatus and the presence of at least one other flagellum-associated protein is required for autoactivation of this protein. This study provides insight into the unusual regulation of the FlgSR two-component system and its role in activating sigma54-dependent flagellar gene transcription.

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