The ability of Shigella flexneri to multiply within colonic epithelial cells and spread to adjacent cells is essential for production of dysentery. Two S. flexneri chromosomal loci that are required for these processes were identified by screening a pool of TnphoA insertion mutants. These mutants were able to invade cultured epithelial cells but could not form wild-type plaques. Analysis of the nucleotide sequence indicated that the sites of TnphoA insertion were within two different regions that are almost identical to Escherichia coli K-12 chromosomal sequences of unknown functions. One region is located at 70 min on the E. coli chromosome, upstream of murZ, while the other is at 28 min, downstream of tonB. The mutant with the insertion at 70 min was named vpsC because it showed an altered pattern of virulence protein secretion. The vpsC mutant formed pinpoint-sized plaques, was defective in recovery from infected tissue culture cells, and was sensitive to lysis by the detergent sodium dodecyl sulfate. Recombinant plasmids carrying the S. flexneri vpsA, -B, and -C genes complemented all of the phenotypes of the vpsC mutant. A mutation in vpsA resulted in the same phenotype as the vpsC mutation, suggesting that these two genes are part of a virulence operon in S. flexneri. The mutant with the insertion at 28 min was interrupted in the same open reading frame as S. flexneri ispA. This ispA mutant could not form plaques and was defective in bacterial septation inside tissue culture cells.
The ability to transport and use haemin as an iron source is frequently observed in clinical isolates of Shigella spp. and pathogenic Escherichia coli. We found that many of these haem-utilizing E. coli strains contain a gene that hybridizes at high stringency to the S. dysenteriae type 1 haem receptor gene, shuA. These shuA-positive strains belong to multiple phylogenetic groups and include clinical isolates from enteric, urinary tract and systemic infections. The distribution of shuA in these strains suggests horizontal transfer of the haem transport locus. Some haem-utilizing pathogenic E. coli strains did not hybridize with shuA, so at least one other haem transport system is present in this group. We also characterized the chromosomal region containing shuA in S. dysenteriae. The shuA gene is present in a discrete locus, designated the haem transport locus, containing eight open reading frames. Several of the proteins encoded in this locus participate with ShuA in haem transport, as a Salmonella typhimurium strain containing the entire haem transport locus used haem much more efficiently than the same strain containing only shuA. The haem transport locus is not present in E. coli K-12 strains, but the sequences flanking the haem transport locus in S. dysenteriae matched those at the 78.7 minute region of E. coli K-12. The junctions and flanking sequences in the shuA-positive pathogenic E. coli strains tested were nearly identical to those in S. dysenteriae, indicating that, in these strains, the haem transport locus has an organization similar to that in S. dysenteriae, and it is located in the same relative position on the chromosome.
Vibrio cholerae was found to have two sets of genes encoding TonB, ExbB and ExbD proteins. The first set (tonB1, exbB1, exbD1) was obtained by complementation of a V. cholerae tonB mutant. In the mutant, a plasmid containing these genes permitted transport via the known V. cholerae high-affinity iron transport systems, including uptake of haem, vibriobactin and ferrichrome. When chromosomal mutations in exbB1 or exbD1 were introduced into a wild-type V. cholerae background, no defect in iron transport was noted, indicating the existence of additional genes that can complement the defect in the wild-type background. Another region of the V. cholerae chromosome was cloned that encoded a second functional TonB/Exb system (tonB2, exbB2, exbD2). A chromosomal mutation in exbB2 also failed to exhibit a defect in iron transport, but a V. cholerae strain that had chromosomal mutations in both the exbB1 and exbB2 genes displayed a mutant phenotype similar to that of an Escherichia coli tonB mutant. The genes encoding TonB1, ExbB1, ExbD1 were part of an operon that included three haem transport genes (hutBCD), and all six genes appeared to be expressed from a single Fur-regulated promoter upstream of tonB1. A plasmid containing all six genes permitted utilization of haem by an E. coli strain expressing the V. cholerae haem receptor, HutA. Analysis of the hut genes indicated that hutBCD, which are predicted to encode a periplasmic binding protein (HutB) and cytoplasmic membrane permease (HutC and HutD), were required to reconstitute the V. cholerae haem transport system in E. coli. In V. cholerae, the presence of hutBCD stimulated growth when haemin was the iron source, but these genes were not essential for haemin utilization in V. cholerae.