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Summary

Bacteria are colonizers of various environments and host organisms, and they are often subjected to drastic temperature variations. Dickeya dadantii is a pathogen infecting a wide range of plant species. Soft rot, the visible symptom, is mainly due to the production of pectate lyases (Pels) that destroy plant cell walls. The production of Pels is controlled by a complex regulation system that responds to various stimuli, such as the presence of pectin, growth phase and temperature. Despite numerous regulatory studies, the thermoregulation mechanism of Pel production remains unexplained. Here, we show that PecT, a previously identified repressor, modulates pel gene expression in a temperature-dependent manner, and we demonstrate that PecT binding on pel promoters increases concomitantly with temperature. High temperatures relax the DNA in D. dadantii, and remarkably, artificial relaxation of DNA at low temperatures increases PecT binding to DNA. Deletion of pecT augmented the capacity of D. dadantii to initiate soft-rot symptoms at high temperatures. These results reveal that DNA topology and PecT act in concert to fine-tune D. dadantii virulence in response to temperature. This novel combination between DNA topology and a conventional transcriptional regulator extends our understanding of the thermoregulation mechanisms involved in bacterial virulence.