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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990 Sep; 87(17): 6708–6712.

Sugars induce the Agrobacterium virulence genes through a periplasmic binding protein and a transmembrane signal protein.


Phenolic plant metabolites such as acetosyringone induce transcription of the virulence (vir) genes of Agrobacterium tumefaciens through the transmembrane VirA protein. We report here that certain sugars induce the vir genes synergistically with phenolic inducers by way of a distinct regulatory pathway that includes VirA and a chromosomally encoded virulence protein, ChvE. Sequence comparison showed that ChvE is a periplasmic galactose-binding protein corresponding to the GBP1 protein isolated from Agrobacterium radiobacter. Like homologous sugar-binding proteins in Escherichia coli, ChvE was required for chemotaxis toward galactose and several other sugars. These sugars strongly induced vir gene expression in wild-type cells when acetosyringone was absent or present in low concentrations. Mutations in chvE abolished vir gene induction by sugars and resulted in a limited host range for infection but did not affect vir gene induction by acetosyringone. A mutant lacking the periplasmic domain of VirA exhibited the same regulatory phenotype and limited host range as chvE mutants. These data show that the vir genes are regulated by two separate classes of plant-derived inducers by way of distinct regulatory pathways that can be separated by mutation. Induction by sugars is essential for infection of some but not all plant hosts.

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