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Mol Microbiol. 2004 Sep;53(5):1423-36.

MexAB-OprM hyperexpression in NalC-type multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa: identification and characterization of the nalC gene encoding a repressor of PA3720-PA3719.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada, K7L 3N6.


MexAB-OprM is a multidrug efflux system that contributes to intrinsic and acquired multidrug resistance in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the latter as a result of mutational hyperexpression of the mexAB-oprM operon. While efflux gene hyperexpression typically results from mutations in the linked mexR repressor gene, it also occurs independently of mexR mutations in so-called nalC mutants that demonstrate more modest mexAB-oprM expression and, thus, more modest multidrug resistance than do mexR strains. Using a transposon insertion mutagenesis approach, nalC mutant strains were selected and the disrupted gene, PA3721, identified. Amplification and sequencing of this gene from previously isolated spontaneous nalC mutants revealed the presence of mutations in all instances and as such, PA3721 has been renamed nalC. PA3721 (nalC) encodes a probable repressor of the TetR/AcrR family and occurs upstream of an apparent two-gene operon, PA3720-PA3719, whose expression was negatively regulated by PA3721. Thus, PA3720-PA3719 was hyperexpressed in transposon insertion and spontaneous nalC mutants. The loss of PA3719 but not of PA3720 expression in a spontaneous nalC mutant reduced MexAB-OprM expression to wild-type levels and compromised multidrug resistance, an indication that hyperexpression of PA3719 only was necessary for the nalC phenotype. Introduction of PA3719 into wild-type P. aeruginosa on a multicopy plasmid was, in fact, sufficient to promote elevated MexAB-OprM expression and multidrug resistance characteristic of a nalC strain. Thus, the nalC (PA3721) mutation serves only to enhance PA3720-PA3719 expression, with expression of PA3719 (encodes a 53 amino acid protein of predicted pI 10.4) directly or indirectly impacting MexAB-OprM expression. Intriguingly, nalC strains produce markedly elevated levels of stable MexR protein suggesting that PA3720-PA3719 hyperexpression somehow modulates MexR repressor activity. The deduced products of PA3720-PA3719 show no homology to sequences presently in the GenBank databases, however, and as such provide no clues as to how this might occur.

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