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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Mar;47(5):1395-406.

Regulation of Salmonella typhimurium lipopolysaccharide O antigen chain length is required for virulence; identification of FepE as a second Wzz.

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Department of Molecular Biosciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 5005.


Wzz proteins regulate the degree of polymerization of the O antigen (Oag) subunits in lipopolysaccharide (LPS) biosynthesis. Although the pathogenic relevance of Oag is well recognized, the significance of Oag chain length regulation is not well defined. In this report, Salmonella typhimurium was shown to possess two functional wzz genes resulting in a bimodal Oag length distribution. In addition to the previously described wzzST that results in long (L) modal length LPS with 16-35 Oag repeat units (RUs), we now report that wzzfepE, a homologue of Escherichia coli fepE, is responsible for the production of very long (VL) modal length LPS Oag, estimated to contain> 100 Oag RUs. Analysis of a series of isogenic S. typhimurium C5 mutants found that the presence of either wzz gene (and hence either modal length) was sufficient for complement resistance and virulence in the mouse model of infection, suggesting a degree of redundancy in the role of these two wzz genes and their respective Oag modal lengths. In contrast, the wzzST/wzzfepE double mutant, with relatively short, random-length Oag, displayed enhanced susceptibility to complement and was highly attenuated in the mouse. This clearly demonstrates the molecular genetic basis for the longer LPS Oag chains previously identified as the basis of complement resistance in Salmonella. The presence of wzzfepE homologues in the genomic sequences of strains of Escherichia coli, Shigella flexneri and multiple serovars of Salmonella suggests that bimodality of LPS Oag is a common phenomenon in the Enterobacteriaceae.

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