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J Bacteriol. Feb 1993; 175(4): 1153–1164.
PMCID: PMC193032

Characterization of a locus determining the mucoid status of Pseudomonas aeruginosa: AlgU shows sequence similarities with a Bacillus sigma factor.


Overproduction of the exopolysaccharide alginate by Pseudomonas aeruginosa results in mucoid colony morphology and is an important virulence determinant expressed by this organism in cystic fibrosis. Mucoidy is transcriptionally regulated by signal transduction systems and histone-like elements. One point of convergence of regulatory elements controlling mucoidy is the algD promoter. A newly described genetic locus required for algD transcription was characterized in this study. This DNA region, cloned from a nonmucoid PAO strain, was initially isolated on the basis of its ability to suppress mucoidy when present on a plasmid. The suppressing activity was observed in several mucoid PAO derivatives, including strain PAO568, in which the mapped muc-2 mutation is responsible for its mucoid phenotype, and in close to 40% of cystic fibrosis strains tested. Protein expression studies detected two polypeptides with apparent molecular masses of 27.5 and 20 kDa encoded by the region required for the suppression activity. The gene encoding the polypeptide with an apparent molecular mass of 27.5 kDa, termed algU, was further characterized. A functional chromosomal copy of algU was found to be necessary for the expression of mucoidy. Insertional inactivation of algU on the chromosome of the mucoid strain PAO568 abrogated alginate production and algD transcription. DNA sequence analysis revealed sequence similarity of the predicted algU gene product with sigma H (Spo0H), a sigma factor involved in the control of sporulation and competence in Bacillus spp. Physical mapping revealed that algU resided on the same SpeI fragment (F) as did the pruAB locus, known to be tightly linked with genetic determinants (muc) which can confer mucoidy in genetic crosses. When the chromosomal algU copy was tagged with a Tcr cassette (algU::Tcr), a tight genetic linkage of algU with pruAB was demonstrated by F116L-mediated generalized transduction. Moreover, algU::Tcr derivatives of PAO568 (originally carrying the muc-2 marker) lost the ability to transfer mucoidy in genetic crosses. These results suggest that algU, a regulator of algD transcription showing sequence similarity to an alternative sigma factor, and the genes immediately downstream of algU may be associated with a locus participating in the differentiation into the mucoid phenotype.

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