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J Bacteriol. 1995 Feb;177(4):1059-68.

Molecular, genetic, and topological characterization of O-antigen chain length regulation in Shigella flexneri.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Adelaide, Australia.


The rfb region of Shigella flexneri encodes the proteins required to synthesize the O-antigen component of its cell surface lipopolysaccharides (LPS). We have previously reported that a region adjacent to rfb was involved in regulating the length distribution of the O-antigen polysaccharide chains (D. F. Macpherson et al., Mol. Microbiol. 5:1491-1499, 1991). The gene responsible has been identified in Escherichia coli O75 (called rol [R. A. Batchelor et al., J. Bacteriol. 173:5699-5704, 1991]) and in E. coli O111 and Salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium strain LT2 (called cld [D. A. Bastin et al., Mol. Microbiol. 5:2223-2231, 1991]). Through a combination of subcloning, deletion, and transposon insertion analysis, we have identified a gene adjacent to the S. flexneri rfb region which encodes a protein of 36 kDa responsible for the length distribution of O-antigen chains in LPS as seen on silver-stained sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gels. DNA sequence analysis identified an open reading frame (ORF) corresponding to the rol gene. The corresponding protein was almost identical in sequence to the Rol protein of E. coli O75 and was highly homologous to the functionally identical Cld proteins of E. coli O111 and S. enterica serovar typhimurium LT2. These proteins, together with ORF o349 adjacent to rfe, had almost identical hydropathy plots which predict membrane-spanning segments at the amino- and carboxy-terminal ends and a hydrophilic central region. We isolated a number of TnphoA insertions which inactivated the rol gene, and the fusion end points were determined. The PhoA+ Rol::PhoA fusion proteins had PhoA fused within the large hydrophilic central domain of Rol. These proteins were located in the whole-membrane fraction, and extraction with Triton X-100 indicated a cytoplasmic membrane location. This finding was supported by sucrose density gradient fractionation of the whole-cell membranes and of E. coli maxicells expressing L-[35S]methionine-labelled Rol protein. Hence, we interpret these data to indicate that the Rol protein is anchored into the cytoplasmic membrane via its amino- and carboxy-terminal ends but that the majority of the protein is located in the periplasmic space. To confirm that rol is responsible for the effects on O-antigen chain length observed with the cloned rfb genes in E. coli K-12, it was mutated in S. flexneri by insertion of a kanamycin resistance cartridge. The resulting strains produced LPS with O antigens of nonmodal chain length, thereby confirming the function of the rol gene product. We propose a model for the function of Rol protein in which it acts as a type of molecular chaperone to facilitate the interaction of the O-antigen ligase (RfaL) with the O-antigen polymerase (Rfc) and polymerized, acyl carrier lipid-linked, O-antigen chains. Analysis of the DNA sequence of the region identified a number of ORFs corresponding to the well-known gnd and hisIE genes. The rol gene was located immediately downstream of two ORFs with sequence similarity to the gene encoding UDPglucose dehydrogenase (HasB) of Streptococcus pyogenes. The ORFs arise because of a deletion or frameshift mutation within the gene we have termed udg (for UDPglucose dehydrogenase).

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