Identification of σs-dependent genes associated with the stationary-phase acid-resistance phenotype of Shigella flexneri


Scott R. Waterman E-mail; Tel. (406) 363 9342; Fax (406) 363 9371.


Shigella flexneri grown to stationary phase has the ability to survive for several hours at pH 2.5. This acid resistance, which may contribute to the low infective dose associated with shigellosis, is dependent upon the expression of the stationary-phase-specific sigma factor σs. Using random TnphoA and TnlacZ mutagenesis we isolated five acid-sensitive mutants of S. flexneri, which had lost their ability to survive at pH 2.5 for 2 h in vitro. Each transposon insertion with flanking S. flexneri DNA was cloned and sequenced. Database searches indicated that two TnlacZ mutants had an insertion within the hdeA gene, which is the first gene in the hdeAB operon. Acid resistance was restored in one of these mutants by a plasmid carrying the entire hdeAB operon. Further sequence analysis from the remaining TnlacZ and two TnphoA mutants demonstrated that they all had insertions within a previously unidentified open reading frame (ORF), which is directly downstream from the gadB gene. This putative ORF encodes a protein that has homology to a number of inner membrane amino acid antiporters. A 1.8 kb polymerase chain reaction (PCR) product containing this gene was cloned, which was able to restore acid resistance in each mutant. These fusions were induced during entry into late exponential phase and were positively regulated by RpoS. We confirmed that the expression of the acid-resistance phenotype in acidified minimal media was dependent upon the supplementation of glutamic acid and that this glutamate-dependent system was RpoS regulated. Southern hybridization revealed that both the gadC and hdeAB loci are absent in Salmonella. An rpoS deletion mutant of S. flexneri was also constructed to confirm the important role played by this gene in acid resistance. This rpoS  derivative was extremely acid sensitive. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis of this mutant revealed that it no longer expressed 27 proteins in late log phase that were present in its isogenic parent. These data indicate that the expression of acid resistance in S. flexneri may be multifactorial and involve proteins located at different subcellular locations.