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Infect Immun. 2011 Oct;79(10):3905-12. doi: 10.1128/IAI.05320-11. Epub 2011 Jul 25.

Cyclic dimeric GMP signaling regulates intracellular aggregation, sessility, and growth of Ehrlichia chaffeensis.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210-1093, USA.


Cyclic dimeric GMP (c-di-GMP), a bacterial second messenger, is known to regulate bacterial biofilm and sessility. Replication of an obligatory intracellular pathogen, Ehrlichia chaffeensis, is characterized by formation of bacterial aggregates called morulae inside membrane-bound inclusions. When E. chaffeensis matures into an infectious form, morulae become loose to allow bacteria to exit from host cells to infect adjacent cells. E. chaffeensis expresses a sensor kinase, PleC, and a cognate response regulator, PleD, which can produce c-di-GMP. A hydrophobic c-di-GMP antagonist, 2'-O-di(tert-butyldimethysilyl)-c-di-GMP (CDGA) inhibits E. chaffeensis internalization into host cells by facilitating degradation of some bacterial surface proteins via endogenous serine proteases. In the present study, we found that PleC and PleD were upregulated synchronously during exponential growth of bacteria, concomitant with increased morula size. While CDGA did not affect host cells, when infected cells were treated with CDGA, bacterial proliferation was inhibited, morulae became less compact, and the intracellular movement of bacteria was enhanced. Concurrently, CDGA treatment facilitated the extracellular release of bacteria with lower infectivity than those spontaneously released from sham-treated cells. Addition of CDGA to isolated inclusions induced dispersion of the morulae, degradation of an inclusion matrix protein TRP120, and bacterial intrainclusion movement, all of which were blocked by a serine protease inhibitor. These results suggest that c-di-GMP signaling regulates aggregation and sessility of E. chaffeensis within the inclusion through stabilization of matrix proteins by preventing the serine protease activity, which is associated with bacterial intracellular proliferation and maturation.

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