Conjugal transfer of the virulence plasmid of Salmonella enterica is regulated by the leucine-responsive regulatory protein and DNA adenine methylation



Host-encoded functions that regulate the transfer operon (tra) in the virulence plasmid of Salmonella enterica (pSLT) were identified with a genetic screen. Mutations that decreased tra operon expression mapped in the lrp gene, which encodes the leucine-responsive regulatory protein (Lrp). Reduced tra operon expression in an Lrp background is caused by lowered transcription of the traJ gene, which encodes a transcriptional activator of the tra operon. Gel retardation assays indicated that Lrp binds a DNA region upstream of the traJ promoter. Deletion of the Lrp binding site resulted in lowered and Lrp-independent traJ transcription. Conjugal transfer of pSLT decreased 50-fold in a Lrp background. When a FinO derivative of pSLT was used, conjugal transfer from an Lrp donor decreased 1000-fold. Mutations that derepressed tra operon expression mapped in dam, the gene encoding Dam methyltransferase. Expression of the tra operon and conjugal transfer remain repressed in an Lrp Dam background. These observations support the model that Lrp acts as a conjugation activator by promoting traJ transcription, whereas Dam methylation acts as a conjugation repressor by activating FinP RNA synthesis. This dual control of conjugal transfer may also operate in other F-like plasmids such as F and R100.