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Mol Microbiol. 1997 Dec;26(5):939-50.

Mechanism of bacteriophage SfII-mediated serotype conversion in Shigella flexneri.

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


We have isolated the lysogenic bacteriophage SfII, which mediates glucosylation of Shigella flexneri O-antigen, resulting in expression of the type II antigen. SfII belongs to group A of the Bradley classification and has a genome size of 42.3kb. DNA sequencing of a 4 kb BamHI subclone identified four open reading frames (ORFs), of which only two were found to be necessary for serotype conversion. These genes were named bgt, which encodes a putative bactoprenol glucosyl transferase, and gtrII, encoding the putative type II antigen determining glucosyl transferase. These genes are adjacent to the integrase gene (int) and attachment site (attP), which are highly homologous to those of Salmonella bacteriophage P22. Another ORF encoded a highly hydrophobic protein of 120 amino acids with homologues in Escherichia coli, Salmonella bacteriophage P22 and S. flexneri. Previous studies identified gtrX, the glucosyl transferase gene, of bacteriophage SfX, which also glucosylates the O-antigen specifically. We determined that gtrX-mediated expression of the group 7,8 antigen also requires bgt. This allowed us to identify gtrII as being the serotype antigen II determining glucosyl transferase. Southern hybridization and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyses indicated that bgt homologues exist in the genomes of all S. flexneri serotypes and in E. coli K-12, whereas gtrII was only detected in strains of serotype 2. Transposon TnphoA-derived chromosomal mutations of bgt and gtrII in S. flexneri serotype 2a were isolated and characterized. [35S]-methionine labelling and the use of a T7 RNA polymerase expression system identified a protein of 34kDa corresponding to Bgt. However, GtrII, which has a predicted molecular weight of 55 kDa, was not detected. We propose that the function of Bgt is to transfer the glucose residues from the UDP-glucose onto bactoprenol and GtrII then transfers the glucose onto the O-antigen repeat unit at the rhamnose III position. The chromosomal organization of these serotype-converting genes, when compared with their homologues in E. coli K-12 chromosome and the P22 bacteriophage genome, were very similar. This suggests that the regions encode similar functions in these organisms and have a similar evolutionary origin.

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