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Cell. 1996 Jan 12;84(1):165-74.

Mg2+ as an extracellular signal: environmental regulation of Salmonella virulence.

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  • 1Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Molecular Microbiology, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Ions are not traditionally thought to act as first messengers in signal transduction cascades. However, while searching for genes regulated by the PhoP/PhoQ virulence regulatory system of Salmonella typhimurium, we recovered two loci whose expression is controlled by the concentration of Mg2+. To determine whether Mg2+ is the signal modulating the whole PhoP/PhoQ system, we evaluated the gene expression pattern of six PhoP-activated genes. Growth in physiological concentrations of divalent cations repressed transcription of PhoP-activated genes and rendered wild-type Salmonella phenotypically PhoP-. Mg2+ changed the conformation of the periplasmic domain of PhoQ, identifying this protein as a Mg2+ sensor. A mutation in the sensing domain of PhoQ altered the set point for Mg2+ and rendered Salmonella avirulent.

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