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PLoS Pathog. 2011 Aug;7(8):e1002153. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002153. Epub 2011 Aug 4.

A protein thermometer controls temperature-dependent transcription of flagellar motility genes in Listeria monocytogenes.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America.


Facultative bacterial pathogens must adapt to multiple stimuli to persist in the environment or establish infection within a host. Temperature is often utilized as a signal to control expression of virulence genes necessary for infection or genes required for persistence in the environment. However, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms that allow bacteria to adapt and respond to temperature fluctuations. Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) is a food-borne, facultative intracellular pathogen that uses flagellar motility to survive in the extracellular environment and to enhance initial invasion of host cells during infection. Upon entering the host, Lm represses transcription of flagellar motility genes in response to mammalian physiological temperature (37°C) with a concomitant temperature-dependent up-regulation of virulence genes. We previously determined that down-regulation of flagellar motility is required for virulence and is governed by the reciprocal activities of the MogR transcriptional repressor and the bifunctional flagellar anti-repressor/glycosyltransferase, GmaR. In this study, we determined that GmaR is also a protein thermometer that controls temperature-dependent transcription of flagellar motility genes. Two-hybrid and gel mobility shift analyses indicated that the interaction between MogR and GmaR is temperature sensitive. Using circular dichroism and limited proteolysis, we determined that GmaR undergoes a temperature-dependent conformational change as temperature is elevated. Quantitative analysis of GmaR in Lm revealed that GmaR is degraded in the absence of MogR and at 37°C (when the MogR:GmaR complex is less stable). Since MogR represses transcription of all flagellar motility genes, including transcription of gmaR, changes in the stability of the MogR:GmaR anti-repression complex, due to conformational changes in GmaR, mediates repression or de-repression of flagellar motility genes in Lm. Thus, GmaR functions as a thermo-sensing anti-repressor that incorporates temperature signals into transcriptional control of flagellar motility. To our knowledge, this is the first example of a protein thermometer that functions as an anti-repressor to control a developmental process in bacteria.

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