The global regulator Lrp contributes to mutualism, pathogenesis and phenotypic variation in the bacterium Xenorhabdus nematophila


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Xenorhabdus nematophila is a Gram-negative bacterium that leads both pathogenic and mutualistic lifestyles. In this study, we examine the role of Lrp, the leucine-responsive regulatory protein, in regulating both of these lifestyles. lrp mutants have attenuated virulence towards Manduca sexta insects and are defective in suppression of both cellular and humoral insect immunity. In addition, an lrp mutant is deficient in initiating colonization of and growth within mutualistic host nematodes. Furthermore, nematodes reared on lrp mutant lawns exhibit decreased overall numbers of nematode progeny. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of virulence attenuation associated with an lrp mutation in any bacterium, as well as the first report of a factor involved in both X. nematophila symbioses. Protein profiles of wild-type and mutant cells indicate that Lrp is a global regulator of expression in X. nematophila, affecting ∼65% of 290 proteins. We show that Lrp binds to the promoter regions of genes known to be involved in basic metabolism, mutualism and pathogenesis, demonstrating that the regulation of at least some host interaction factors is likely direct. Finally, we demonstrate that Lrp influences aspects of X. nematophila phenotypic variation, a spontaneous process that occurs during prolonged growth in stationary phase.