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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Oct 26;96(22):12844-8.

Attenuation of virulence in Mycobacterium tuberculosis expressing a constitutively active iron repressor.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


Iron is an essential nutrient for the survival of most organisms and has played a central role in the virulence of many infectious disease pathogens. Mycobacterial IdeR is an iron-dependent repressor that shows 80% identity in the functional domains with its corynebacterial homologue, DtxR (diphtheria toxin repressor). We have transformed Mycobacterium tuberculosis with a vector expressing an iron-independent, positive dominant, corynebacterial dtxR hyperrepressor, DtxR(E175K). Western blots of whole-cell lysates of M. tuberculosis expressing the dtxR(E175K) gene revealed the stable expression of the mutant protein in mycobacteria. BALB/c mice were infected by tail vein injection with 2 x 10(5) organisms of wild type or M. tuberculosis transformed with the dtxR mutant. At 16 weeks, there was a 1.2 log reduction in bacterial survivors in both spleen (P = 0.0002) and lungs (P = 0.006) with M. tuberculosis DtxR(E175K). A phenotypic difference in colonial morphology between the two strains also was noted. A computerized search of the M. tuberculosis genome for the palindromic consensus sequence to which DtxR and IdeR bind revealed six putative "iron boxes" within 200 bp of an ORF. Using a gel-shift assay we showed that purified DtxR binds to the operator region of five of these boxes. Attenuation of M. tuberculosis can be achieved by the insertion of a plasmid containing a constitutively active, iron-insensitive repressor, DtxR(E175K), which is a homologue of IdeR. Our results strongly suggest that IdeR controls genes essential for virulence in M. tuberculosis.

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