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Mol Genet Genomics. 2003 Nov;270(3):263-72. Epub 2003 Oct 24.

Characterization of the hrp pathogenicity cluster of Erwinia carotovora subsp. carotovora: high basal level expression in a mutant is associated with reduced virulence.

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Division of Genetics, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, POB 56, FIN-00014 Helsinki, Finland.


Extracellularly targeted proteins are crucial for virulence of gram-negative phytopathogenic bacteria. Erwinia carotovora subsp. carotovora employs the so-called type II (GSP) pathway to secrete a number of pectinases and cellulases, which cause the typical tissue maceration symptoms of soft-rot disease. The type III (hrp) pathway is the major virulence determinant in the genera Pseudomonas, Ralstonia and Xanthomonas, and in non-macerating species of Erwinia. The hrp cluster was recently partially characterized from E. carotovora sp. carotovora, and shown to affect virulence during early stages of infection. Here we have isolated and characterized 15 hrp genes comprising the remaining part of the cluster. The genes hrpL, hrpXY and hrpS were deduced to be transcribed as separate units, whereas the 11 remaining genes from hrpJ to hrcU form a single large operon. The hrpX gene, which codes for the sensory kinase of the two-component regulatory locus hrpXY was insertionally inactivated by placing a transposon (entranceposon) in the gene. The resulting mutant bacterium expresses the hrp genes at high basal level even in a non-inducing medium. This relative overexpression was shown to be due to the hrpX::entranceposon insertion causing enhanced transcription of the downstream hrpY gene. The hrpX(-)-hrpYC mutant bacterium exhibited a slower growth rate and the appearance of disease symptoms in infected Arabidopsis plants was delayed, as compared to the wild-type strain. The need for hrp gene expression for virulence has been documented in both non-macerating plant pathogens and in soft-rotting Erwinia sp. but this is the first demonstration that high basal-level expression of hrp -regulated genes may actually have a negative impact on disease progress in a susceptible host plant.

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