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Arch Microbiol. 2001 Dec;176(6):393-9. Epub 2001 Sep 21.

Thermoregulated expression of virulence factors in plant-associated bacteria.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für terrestrische Mikrobiologie, AG Okophysiologie, Max-Planck-Institut für terrestrische Mikrobiologie, Karl-von-Frisch-Strasse, 35043 Marburg, Germany.


Pathogenic bacteria with habitats inside and outside a given host react to changes in environmental parameters by synthesizing gene products specifically needed during pathogenic or saprophytic growth. Temperature effects have been investigated in detail for pathogens of warm-blooded hosts, and major principles governing the temperature-sensing mechanism have been uncovered. Generally, transcription of virulence genes in these pathogens is induced at higher temperatures (37-41 degrees C), which are typical for body cavities and host tissues. However, effects of temperature on virulence determinants in plant pathogenic bacteria have not been focused on in detail. Interestingly, almost all virulence genes of plant pathogenic bacteria studied with respect to temperature exhibit increased transcription at temperatures well below the respective growth optima. This includes virulence determinants such as those directing bacteria-to-plant gene transfer, plant cell-wall-degrading enzymes, phytotoxins, ice nucleation activity, exopolysaccharide production, and the type III protein secretion machinery. Although many of the studied phytopathogens cause "cold-weather" diseases, the ecological rationale for this phenomenon remains to be studied in detail. This mini-review summarizes our current knowledge on thermoregulation of cellular processes taking place in bacterial phytopathogens in response to temperature changes. Since the temperature range of interest is different from that relevant to pathogens of mammals, one envisions novel principles of thermo-sensing in bacteria interacting with plants.

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