UNLABELLED: Siderophores, small iron-binding molecules secreted by many microbial species, capture environmental iron for transport back into the cell. Vibrio cholerae synthesizes and uses the catechol siderophore vibriobactin and also uses siderophores secreted by other species, including enterobactin produced by Escherichia coli. E. coli secretes both canonical cyclic enterobactin and linear enterobactin derivatives likely derived from its cleavage by the enterobactin esterase Fes. We show here that V. cholerae does not use cyclic enterobactin but instead uses its linear derivatives. V. cholerae lacked both a receptor for efficient transport of cyclic enterobactin and enterobactin esterase to promote removal of iron from the ferrisiderophore complex. To further characterize the transport of catechol siderophores, we show that the linear enterobactin derivatives were transported into V. cholerae by either of the catechol siderophore receptors IrgA and VctA, which also transported the synthetic siderophore MECAM [1,3,5-N,N',N″-tris-(2,3-dihydroxybenzoyl)-triaminomethylbenzene]. Vibriobactin is transported via the additional catechol siderophore receptor ViuA, while the Vibrio fluvialis siderophore fluvibactin was transported by all three catechol receptors. ViuB, a putative V. cholerae siderophore-interacting protein (SIP), functionally substituted for the E. coli ferric reductase YqjH, which promotes the release of iron from the siderophore in the bacterial cytoplasm. In V. cholerae, ViuB was required for the use of vibriobactin but was not required for the use of MECAM, fluvibactin, ferrichrome, or the linear derivatives of enterobactin. This suggests the presence of another protein in V. cholerae capable of promoting the release of iron from these siderophores.
IMPORTANCE: Vibrio cholerae is a major human pathogen and also serves as a model for the Vibrionaceae, which include other serious human and fish pathogens. The ability of these species to persist and acquire essential nutrients, including iron, in the environment is epidemiologically important but not well understood. In this work, we characterize the ability of V. cholerae to acquire iron by using siderophores produced by other organisms. We resolve confusion in the literature regarding its ability to use the Escherichia coli siderophore enterobactin and identify the receptor and TonB system used for the transport of several siderophores. The use of some siderophores did not require the ferric reductase ViuB, suggesting that an uncharacterized ferric reductase is present in V. cholerae.
Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of the severe diarrheal disease cholera, thrives in both marine environments and the human host. To do so, it must encode the tools necessary to acquire essential nutrients, including iron, under these vastly different conditions. A number of V. cholerae iron acquisition systems have been identified; however, the precise role of each system is not fully understood. To test the roles of individual systems, we generated a series of mutants in which only one of the four systems that support iron acquisition on unsupplemented LB agar, Feo, Fbp, Vct, and Vib, remains functional. Analysis of these mutants under different growth conditions showed that these systems are not redundant. The strain carrying only the ferrous iron transporter Feo grew well at acidic, but not alkaline, pH, whereas the ferric iron transporter Fbp promoted better growth at alkaline than at acidic pH. A strain defective in all four systems (null mutant) had a severe growth defect under aerobic conditions, but accumulated iron and grew as well as the wild type in the absence of oxygen, suggesting the presence of an additional, unidentified iron transporter in V. cholerae. In support of this, the null mutant was only moderately attenuated in an infant mouse model of infection. While the null mutant used heme as an iron source in vitro, we demonstrate that heme is not available to V. cholerae in the infant mouse intestine.
UNLABELLED: ToxR is a major virulence gene regulator in Vibrio cholerae. Although constitutively expressed under many laboratory conditions, our previous work demonstrated that the level of ToxR increases significantly when cells are grown in the presence of the 4 amino acids asparagine, arginine, glutamate, and serine (NRES). We show here that the increase in ToxR production in response to NRES requires the Var/Csr global regulatory circuit. The VarS/VarA two-component system controls the amount of active CsrA, a small RNA-binding protein involved in the regulation of a wide range of cellular processes. Our data show that a varA mutant, which is expected to overproduce active CsrA, had elevated levels of ToxR in the absence of the NRES stimulus. Conversely, specific amino acid substitutions in CsrA were associated with defects in ToxR production in response to NRES. These data indicate that CsrA is a positive regulator of ToxR levels. Unlike previously described effects of CsrA on virulence gene regulation, the effects of CsrA on ToxR were not mediated through quorum sensing and HapR. CsrA is likely essential in V. cholerae, since a complete deletion of csrA was not possible; however, point mutations in CsrA were tolerated well. The CsrA Arg6His mutant had wild-type growth in vitro but was severely attenuated in the infant mouse model of V. cholerae infection, showing that CsrA is critical for pathogenesis. This study has broad implications for our understanding of how V. cholerae integrates its response to environmental cues with the regulation of important virulence genes.
IMPORTANCE: In order to colonize the human host, Vibrio cholerae must sense and respond to environmental signals to ensure appropriate expression of genes required for pathogenesis. Uncovering how V. cholerae senses its environment and activates its virulence gene repertoire is critical for our understanding of how V. cholerae transitions from its natural aquatic habitat to the human host. Here we demonstrate a previously unknown link between the global regulator CsrA and the major V. cholerae virulence gene regulator ToxR. The role of CsrA in the cell is to receive input from the environment and coordinate an appropriate cellular response. By linking environmental sensing to the ToxR regulon, CsrA effectively acts as a switch that controls pathogenesis in response to specific signals. We demonstrate that CsrA is critical for virulence in the infant mouse model of V. cholerae infection, consistent with its role as an in vivo regulator of virulence gene expression.