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Bioeng Bugs. 2012 Mar-Apr;3(2):93-103. doi: 10.4161/bbug.19476. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

Development and optimization of an EGFP-based reporter for measuring the general stress response in Listeria monocytogenes.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland, Galway, Galway, Ireland.


A characteristic of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes is its tolerance to the harsh conditions found both in minimally processed foods and the human gastrointestinal tract. This trait is partly under the control of the alternative sigma factor sigma B (σ(B)). To study the mechanisms that trigger the activation of σ(B) , and hence the development of stress tolerance, we have developed a fluorescent reporter fusion that allows the real-time activity of σ(B) to be monitored. The reporter, designated Plmo2230::egfp, fuses the strong σ(B)-dependent promoter from the lmo2230 gene (which encodes a putative arsenate reductase) to a gene encoding enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP). The reporter was integrated into the genomes of the wild-type strain L. monocytogenes EGD-e as well as two mutant derivatives lacking either sigB or rsbV. The resulting strains were used to study σ(B) activation in response to growth phase and hyperosmotic stress. The wild-type was strongly fluorescent in stationary phase or in cultures with added NaCl and this fluorescence was abolished in both the sigB and rsbV backgrounds, consistent with the σ(B)-dependency of the lmo2230 promoter. During sudden osmotic upshock (addition of 0.5 M NaCl during growth) a real-time increase in fluorescence was observed microscopically, reaching maximal activation after 30 min. Flow cytometry was used to study the activation of σ(B) at a population level by hyperosmotic stress during exponential growth. A strong and proportional increase in fluorescence was observed as the salt concentration increased from 0 to 0.9 M NaCl. Interestingly, there was considerable heterogeneity within the population and a significant proportion of cells failed to induce a high level of fluorescence, suggesting that σ(B) activation occurs stochastically in response to hyperosmotic stress. Thus the Plmo2230::egfp is a powerful tool that will allow the stress response to be better studied in this important human pathogen.

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