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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Sep 15;90(18):8377-81.

Mechanism of conversion to mucoidy in Pseudomonas aeruginosa infecting cystic fibrosis patients.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio 78284-7758.


Chronic respiratory infections with mucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa are the leading cause of high mortality and morbidity in cystic fibrosis (CF). The initially colonizing strains are nonmucoid, but in the CF lung they invariably convert into the mucoid, exopolysaccharide alginate-overproducing form causing further deterioration and poor prognosis. Here we report the molecular basis of conversion to mucoidy. The algU gene is required for expression of the key alginate biosynthetic gene algD and encodes a protein homologous to sigma H, an alternative sigma factor regulating sporulation and other post-exponential-phase processes in Bacillus. The algU gene and the negative regulators mucA and mucB constitute the gene cluster controlling conversion to mucoidy. We demonstrate a critical role of mucA in this process based on (i) the presence of frameshift mutations disrupting the mucA coding region in mucoid cells that were absent in nonmucoid parental strains, (ii) genetic complementation of mucA mutations with the mucA+ gene, (iii) allelic replacements with specific mutant mucA genes causing conversion to mucoidy in previously nonmucoid cells, and (iv) detection of identical and additional mucA mutations in clinical mucoid strains isolated from the lungs of CF patients. These results suggest that the switch from the nonmucoid to mucoid state can be caused by inactivation of mucA, resulting in constitutive expression of alginate biosynthetic genes dependent on algU for transcription and that such mutants may be selected in vivo during chronic infections in CF.

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