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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Feb;47(4):1045-60.

Transcriptional organization and regulation of the Escherichia coli K30 group 1 capsule biosynthesis (cps) gene cluster.

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1
Department of Microbiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, N1G 2W1.

Abstract

Escherichia coli group 1 capsules are important virulence determinants, yet little is known about the transcriptional organization or regulation of their biosynthetic (cps) operons. Transcription of the prototype serotype K30 cluster is modulated by the JUMPStart-RfaH antitermination mechanism, with the cps promoter being localized to a region immediately upstream of the JUMPStart sequence. A putative stem-loop structure located within the K30 cps cluster separates conserved genes with products that are required for surface expression of capsule from serotype-specific genes encoding enzymes for polymer repeat-unit synthesis and polymerization. This putative stem-loop structure significantly reduces transcription in a termination-probe vector and may contribute to differential expression of the cps genes. Previous work indicated that increased amounts of group 1 capsular polysaccharide synthesis resulted from the overexpression of the Rcs (regulator of capsule synthesis) proteins. However, neither overexpression of the transcriptional activator RcsB nor an rcsB::aadA chromosomal insertion altered the level of transcription measured by cps::lacZ fusions. In the group 1 strains examined, an RcsAB box was found immediately upstream of galF, a gene involved in the production of sugar nucleotide precursors. Overexpression of RcsB was found to result in a threefold increase in transcription of a galF::lacZ chromosomal fusion. Moreover, overexpression of GalF gave rise to a two- to threefold increase in cell-free as well as cell-associated capsule, without affecting cps::lacZ activity. These results indicate that transcription of the E. coli group 1 capsule cluster itself is not regulated by the Rcs system and may, in fact, be constitutive. However, the Rcs system can potentially influence levels of capsular polysaccharide production by increasing galF transcription and influencing the available pool of biosynthetic precursors.

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