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Nature. 1989 Mar 16;338(6212):266-9.

Phase variation in Bordetella pertussis by frameshift mutation in a gene for a novel two-component system.

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Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Bordetella pertussis, the aetiological agent of whooping cough, coordinately regulates the expression of many virulence-associated determinants, including filamentous haemagglutinin, pertussis toxin, adenylyl cyclase toxin, dermonecrotic toxin and haemolysin. The coordinate regulation is apparent in the repression of synthesis of these determinants in response to environmental stimuli; a phenomenon known as antigenic or phenotypic modulation. B. pertussis also varies between metastable genetic states, or phases. There is a virulent phase in which virulence-associated determinants are synthesized, and an avirulent phase in which they are not. Previous studies have shown that a genetic locus, vir, is required for expression from many virulence-associated loci, and that replacing the cloned vir locus in trans can restore the virulent phase phenotype to spontaneously occurring avirulent phase strains. Here, we show that phase variation in one series of strains is due to a frameshift mutation within an open reading frame that is predicted to code for a Vir protein product. The deduced protein sequence is similar to both components of the 'two-component' regulatory system which control gene expression in response to environmental stimuli in a range of bacterial species.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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