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J Bacteriol. 1998 Nov;180(21):5632-8.

The phenolic recognition profiles of the Agrobacterium tumefaciens VirA protein are broadened by a high level of the sugar binding protein ChvE.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA.


The formation of crown gall tumors by Agrobacterium tumefaciens requires that the virulence (vir) genes be induced by chemical signals which consist of specific phenolic compounds and monosaccharides, synthesized at plant wound sites. Signal transduction in the activation of these genes is mediated by the VirA-VirG two-component regulatory system, together with ChvE, a glucose-galactose binding protein which interacts with VirA. We have previously presented genetic evidence that virA senses phenolic compounds directly (Y.-W. Lee, S. Jin, W.-S. Sim, and E. W. Nester, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 92:12245-12249, 1995). The vir genes of strain KU12 can be induced by 4-hydroxyacetophenone, p-coumaric acid, and phenol, whereas these same phenolic compounds are weak inducers of the vir genes of strain A6. In this report, we show that a specific inducing sugar can broaden the specificity of the phenolic compound which VirA senses. 4-Hydroxyacetophenone and other related phenolic compounds function as inducing phenolic compounds with the virA gene of A6 if arabinose replaces glucose as the inducing sugar. We further demonstrate that this broadened specificity for phenolic inducers results from the increased level of ChvE through induction by arabinose via the regulatory protein GbpR. If high levels of ChvE are present, then poorly inducing phenolic compounds can induce the vir genes to high levels in combination with glucose. Comparing the induction response of the wild type and that of a VirA mutant with a mutation in its receiver domain revealed that the activity of the receiver domain is controlled by the periplasmic domain. We discuss these observations in terms of how VirA senses and transduces signals elicited by the two classes of plant signal molecules.

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