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Infect Immun. 2013 Apr;81(4):1221-33. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01227-12. Epub 2013 Feb 4.

Ferric uptake regulator and its role in the pathogenesis of nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae.

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The Center for Microbial Pathogenesis, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, The Center for Microbial Interface Biology, and Department of Pediatrics, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.


Nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) is a commensal microorganism of the human nasopharynx, and yet is also an opportunistic pathogen of the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Host microenvironments influence gene expression patterns, likely critical for NTHi persistence. The host sequesters iron as a mechanism to control microbial growth, and yet iron limitation influences gene expression and subsequent production of proteins involved in iron homeostasis. Careful regulation of iron uptake, via the ferric uptake regulator Fur, is essential in multiple bacteria, including NTHi. We hypothesized therefore that Fur contributes to iron homeostasis in NTHi, is critical for bacterial persistence, and likely regulates expression of virulence factors. Toward this end, fur was deleted in the prototypic NTHi clinical isolate, 86-028NP, and we assessed gene expression regulated by Fur. As expected, expression of the majority of genes that encode proteins with predicted roles in iron utilization was repressed by Fur. However, 14 Fur-regulated genes encode proteins with no known function, and yet may contribute to iron utilization or other biological functions. In a mammalian model of human otitis media, we determined that Fur was critical for bacterial persistence, indicating an important role for Fur-mediated iron homeostasis in disease progression. These data provide a profile of genes regulated by Fur in NTHi and likely identify additional regulatory pathways involved in iron utilization. Identification of such pathways will increase our understanding of how this pathogen can persist within host microenvironments, as a common commensal and, importantly, as a pathogen with significant clinical impact.

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