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Mol Microbiol. 2001 Mar;39(5):1345-55.

Generation and characterization of a PhoP homologue mutant of Neisseria meningitidis.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, UK.


Two-component regulatory systems are important regulators of virulence genes in a number of bacteria. Genes encoding a two-component regulator system, with homology to the phoP/phoQ system in salmonella, were identified in the meningococcal genome. Allele replacement was used to generate a meningococcal knock-out mutant of the regulator component of this system, and its phenotype was examined. The mutant displayed many differences in protein profiles compared with wild type, consistent with it being a gene-regulatory mutation. Many of the growth characteristics of the mutant were similar to those of phoP mutants of salmonella: it was unable to grow at low concentrations of magnesium and was sensitive to defensins and other environmental stresses. Magnesium-regulated differences in protein expression were abrogated in the mutant, indicating that the meningococcal PhoP/PhoQ system may, as in salmonella, respond to changes in environmental magnesium levels. These results are consistent with the PhoP homologue playing a similar role in the meningococcus to PhoP in salmonella and suggest that it may similarly be involved in the regulation of virulence genes in response to environmental stimuli in the meningococcus. In support of this conclusion, we found the mutant grew was unable to grow in mouse serum and was attenuated in its ability to traverse through a layer of human epithelial cells. Identification of those genes regulated by the meningococcal PhoP may provide a route towards the identification of virulence genes in the meningococcus.

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