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Infect Immun. Jan 1992; 60(1): 219–230.
PMCID: PMC257526

Nucleotide sequence of the lecithinase operon of Listeria monocytogenes and possible role of lecithinase in cell-to-cell spread.


The lecithinase gene of the intracellular pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, plcB, was identified in a 5,648-bp DNA fragment which expressed lecithinase activity when cloned into Escherichia coli. This fragment is located immediately downstream of the previously identified gene mpl (prtA). It contains five open reading frames, named actA, plcB, and ORFX, -Y, and -Z, which, together with mpl, form an operon, since a 5.7-kb-long transcript originates from a promoter located upstream of mpl (J. Mengaud, C. Geoffroy, and P. Cossart, Infect. Immun. 59:1043-1049, 1991). A second promoter was detected in front of actA which encodes a putative membrane protein containing a region of internal repeats. plcB encodes the lecithinase, a predicted 289-amino-acid protein homologous to the phosphatidylcholine-specific phospholipases C of Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens (alpha-toxin). plcB mutants produce only small plaques on fibroblast monolayers, and an electron microscopic analysis of infected macrophages suggests that lecithinase is involved in the lysis of the two-membrane vacuoles that surround the bacteria after cell-to-cell spread. On the opposite DNA strand, downstream of the operon, three more open reading frames, ldh, ORFA, and ORFB, were found. The deduced amino acid sequence of the first one is homologous to lactate dehydrogenases. Low-stringency Southern hybridization experiments suggest that these three open reading frames lie outside of the L. monocytogenes virulence region: mpl and actA were specific for L. monocytogenes, sequences hybridizing to plcB were detected in L. ivanovii and L. seeligeri, and sequences hybridizing to ORFX, -Y, and -Z were found in L. innocua. In contrast to this, sequences hybridizing to ldh or ORFB were detected in all Listeria species (including the nonpathogenic ones).

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