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Mol Microbiol. 2003 Jun;48(6):1537-51.

Isolation of Listeria monocytogenes mutants with high-level in vitro expression of host cytosol-induced gene products.

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Department of Immunology and Microbiology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.


The facultative intracellular bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes dramatically increases the expression of several key virulence factors upon entry into the host cell cytosol. actA, the protein product of which is required for cell-to-cell spread of the bacterium, is expressed at low to undetectable levels in vitro and increases in expression more than 200-fold after L. monocytogenes escape from the phagosome. To identify bacterial factors that participate in the intracellular induction of actA expression, L. monocytogenes mutants expressing high levels of actA during in vitro growth were selected after chemical mutagenesis. The resulting mutant isolates displayed a wide range of actA expression levels, and many were less sensitive to environmental signals that normally mediate repression of virulence gene expression. Several isolates contained mutations affecting actA gene expression that mapped at least 40 kb outside the PrfA regulon, supporting the existence of additional regulatory factors that contribute to virulence gene expression. Two actA in vitro expression mutants contained novel mutations within PrfA, a key regulator of L. monocytogenes virulence gene expression. PrfA E77K and PrfA G155S mutations resulted in high-level expression of PrfA-dependent genes, increased bacterial invasion of epithelial cells and increased virulence in mice. Both prfA mutant strains were significantly less motile than wild-type L. monocytogenes. These results suggest that, although constitutive activation of PrfA and PrfA-dependent gene expression may enhance L. monocytogenes virulence, it may conversely hamper the bacterium's ability to compete in environments outside host cells.

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