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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 26;9(3):e93141. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093141. eCollection 2014.

Global repression of host-associated genes of the Lyme disease spirochete through post-transcriptional modulation of the alternative sigma factor RpoS.

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Laboratory of Zoonotic Pathogens, Rocky Mountain Laboratories, Division of Intramural Research, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Hamilton, Montana, United States of America.


Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, is a vector-borne pathogen that transits between Ixodes ticks and vertebrate hosts. During the natural infectious cycle, spirochetes must globally adjust their transcriptome to survive in these dissimilar environments. One way B. burgdorferi accomplishes this is through the use of alternative sigma factors to direct transcription of specific genes. RpoS, one of only three sigma factors in B. burgdorferi, controls expression of genes required during tick-transmission and infection of the mammalian host. How spirochetes switch between different sigma factors during the infectious cycle has remained elusive. Here we establish a role for a novel protein, BBD18, in the regulation of the virulence-associated sigma factor RpoS. Constitutive expression of BBD18 repressed transcription of RpoS-dependent genes to levels equivalent to those observed in an rpoS mutant. Consistent with the global loss of RpoS-dependent transcripts, we were unable to detect RpoS protein. However, constitutive expression of BBD18 did not diminish the amount of rpoS transcript, indicating post-transcriptional regulation of RpoS by BBD18. Interestingly, BBD18-mediated repression of RpoS is independent of both the rpoS promoter and the 5' untranslated region, suggesting a mechanism of protein destabilization rather than translational control. We propose that BBD18 is a novel regulator of RpoS and its activity likely represents a first step in the transition from an RpoS-ON to an RpoS-OFF state, when spirochetes transition from the host to the tick vector.

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