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Mol Microbiol. 2009 Aug;73(3):446-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2009.06781.x. Epub 2009 Jun 29.

Hfq affects the expression of the LEE pathogenicity island in enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 685 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


Colonization of the intestinal epithelium by enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) is characterized by an attaching and effacing (A/E) histopathology. The locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE) pathogenicity island encodes many genes required for the A/E phenotype including the global regulator of EHEC virulence gene expression, Ler. The LEE is subject to a complex regulatory network primarily targeting ler transcription. The RNA chaperone Hfq, implicated in post-transcriptional regulation, is an important virulence factor in many bacterial pathogens. Although post-transcriptional regulation of EHEC virulence genes is known to occur, a regulatory role of Hfq in EHEC virulence gene expression has yet to be defined. Here, we show that an hfq mutant expresses increased levels of LEE-encoded proteins prematurely, leading to earlier A/E lesion formation relative to wild type. Hfq indirectly affects LEE expression in exponential phase independent of Ler by negatively controlling levels of the regulators GrlA and GrlR through post-transcriptional regulation of the grlRA messenger. Moreover, Hfq negatively affects LEE expression in stationary phase independent of GrlA and GrlR. Altogether, Hfq plays an important role in co-ordinating the temporal expression of the LEE by controlling grlRA expression at the post-transcriptional level.

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