A novel sensor kinase–response regulator hybrid regulates type III secretion and is required for virulence in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Authors

  • Michelle A. Laskowski,

    1. Program in Microbiology,
    2. Department of Internal Medicine and
    3. Section of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 208022, New Haven, CT 06520-8022, USA.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Ellice Osborn,

    1. Department of Internal Medicine and
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Barbara I. Kazmierczak

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Internal Medicine and
    2. Section of Microbial Pathogenesis, Yale University School of Medicine, PO Box 208022, New Haven, CT 06520-8022, USA.
    Search for more papers by this author

E-mail barbara.kazmierczak@yale.edu; Tel. (+1) 203 737 5062; Fax (+1) 203 785 3864.

Summary

The type III secretion system (TTSS) of Pseudomonas aeruginosa is induced by contact with eukaryotic cells and by growth in low-calcium media. We have identified a protein, RtsM, that is necessary for expression of the TTSS genes in P. aeruginosa. RtsM possesses both histidine kinase and response regulator domains common to two-component signalling proteins, as well as a large predicted periplasmic domain and seven transmembrane domains. Deletion of rtsM resulted in a defect in production and secretion of the type III effectors. Northern blot analysis revealed that mRNAs encoding the effectors ExoT and ExoU are absent in the ΔrtsM strain under TTSS-inducing conditions. Using transcriptional fusions, we demonstrated that RtsM is required for transcription of the operons encoding the TTSS effectors and apparatus in response to calcium limitation or to host cell contact. The operon encoding the TTSS regulator ExsA does not respond to calcium limitation, but the basal transcription rate of this operon was lower in ΔrtsM than in the wild-type parent, PA103. The defect in TTSS effector production and secretion of ΔrtsM could be complemented by overexpressing ExsA or Vfr, two transcriptional activators involved in TTSS regulation. ΔrtsM was markedly less virulent than PA103 in a murine model of acute pneumonia, demonstrating that RtsM is required in vivo. We propose that RtsM is a sensor protein at the start of a signalling cascade that induces expression of the TTSS in response to environmental signals.

Ancillary