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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2003 Oct 10;227(1):113-9.

Identification of genes involved in the switch between the smooth and rugose phenotypes of Vibrio cholerae.

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Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Vibrio cholerae can switch to a 'rugose' phenotype characterized by an exopolysaccharide (EPS) matrix, wrinkled colony morphology, increased biofilm formation and increased survival under specific conditions. The vps gene cluster responsible for the biosynthesis of the rugose EPS (rEPS) is positively regulated by VpsR. We recently identified media (APW#3) promoting EPS production and the rugose phenotype and found epidemic strains switch at a higher frequency than non-pathogenic strains, suggesting this switch and the rugose phenotype are important in cholera epidemiology. In this study, transposon mutagenesis on a smooth V. cholerae strain was used to identify mutants that were unable to shift to the rugose phenotype under inducing conditions to better understand the molecular basis of the switch. We identified vpsR, galE and vps previously associated with the rugose phenotype, and also identified genes not previously associated with the phenotype, including rfbD and rfbE having roles in LPS (lipopolysaccharide) synthesis and aroB and aroK with roles in aromatic amino acid synthesis. Additionally, a mutation in amiB encoding N-acetylmuramoyl-L-alanine amidase caused defects in the switch, motility and cell morphology. We also found that a gene encoding a novel regulatory protein we termed RocS (regulation of cell signaling) containing a GGDEF and EAL domains and associated with c-di-GMP levels is important for the rugose phenotype, EPS, biofilm formation and motility. We propose that modulation of cyclic dinucleotide (e.g. c-di-GMP) levels might have application in regulating various phenotypes of prokaryotes. Our study shows the molecular complexity of the switch between the smooth and rugose phenotypes of V. cholerae and may be relevant to similar phenotypes in other species.

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