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Mol Microbiol. 2005 Aug;57(3):727-34.

Horizontal transfer of Yersinia high-pathogenicity island by the conjugative RP4 attB target-presenting shuttle plasmid.

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Max von Pettenkofer-Institut, Pettenkoferstr. 9a, 80336 Munich, Germany.


The high-pathogenicity island (HPI) encodes a highly efficient yersiniabactin system of iron acquisition responsible for mouse lethality in Yersinia. Although the HPI is widely disseminated among Enterobacteriaceae it lacks functions necessary for its replication and transmission. Therefore, the mechanism of its horizontal transfer and circulation is completely obscure. On the other hand, the HPI is a genetically active island in the bacterial cell. It encodes a functional recombinase and is able to transpose to new targets on the chromosome. Here we report on a possible mechanism of the HPI dissemination based on site-specific recombination of the excised HPI with the attB-presenting (asn tRNA gene) RP4 promiscuous conjugative shuttle plasmid. The resulting cointegrate can be transferred by conjugation to a new host, where it dissociates, and the released HPI integrates into any unoccupied asn tRNA gene target in the genome. This mechanism has been proven both with the 'mini' island carrying only the attP recognition site and genes coding for recombination enzymes and with the complete HPI labelled with an antibiotic resistance marker. After acquisition of the mobilized complete form of the HPI, the ability of the HPI-cured Yersinia enterocolitica WA-TH(-) strain to produce yersiniabactin has been restored. Such 'trapping' of pathogenicity islands and subsequent shuffling to new hosts by a conjugative replicon carrying a suitable attB site could be applied to other functional integrative elements and explain wide dissemination of PAIs.

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