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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Mar;47(6):1653-67.

Expression of cnf1 by Escherichia coli J96 involves a large upstream DNA region including the hlyCABD operon, and is regulated by the RfaH protein.

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INSERM Unité 452, Faculté de Médecine, Avenue de Valombrose, 06107, Nice, France.


Examination of 55 clinical isolates of uropathogenic Escherichia coli producing the CNF1 toxin demonstrated that the cnf1 gene is systematically associated with a hly operon via a highly conserved hlyD-cnf1 intergenic region (igs, 943 bp) as shown in the J96 UPEC strain. We examined if this association could reflect a co-regulation of the production of these toxins. Translation of cnf1 from an immediately upstream promoter has been shown to be controlled by means of an anti-Shine-Dalgarno sequence present in the cnf1 coding sequence [fold-back inhibition (cnf1 fbi)]. The cnf1 fbi was not regulated by elements present in the igs. An RNA covering the full hlyD sequence, the igs and extending on the cnf1 gene, was then detected in the J96 strain. This RNA could be part of a HlyCABD mRNA. Transcription of the haemolysin operon requires RfaH antitermination activity. Inactivation of rfaH in J96 resulted in a 100-fold reduction of the CNF1 content of bacteria. The production of CNF1 from a plasmidic igscnf1 DNA was not sensitive to RfaH, indicating that this factor acted on cnf1 transcription via the hly promoter. This way the cnf1 fbi mechanism might be overcome by transcription of cnf1 from the haemolysin promoter and antitermination by RfaH. This constitutes a novel system of bacterial virulence factors co-regulation.

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