Transcriptional autoregulation of the Salmonella typhimurium phoPQ operon.


The Salmonella typhimurium PhoP-PhoQ two-component regulatory system controls the expression of several genes, some of which are necessary for virulence. During a screening for PhoP-regulated genes, we identified the phoPQ operon as a PhoP-activated locus. beta-Galactosidase activity originating from phoPQ-lac transcriptional fusions required the presence of both the transcriptional regulator PhoP and its cognate sensor-kinase PhoQ. At low concentrations, PhoQ stimulated expression of phoPQ-lac transcriptional fusions. However, larger amounts of PhoQ protein without a concomitant increase in PhoP failed to activate phoPQ-lac fusions. Two different transcripts are produced from the phoPQ operon during exponential growth. These transcripts define two promoters: phoPp1, which requires both PhoP and PhoQ for activity and which is environmentally regulated, and phoPp2, which remains active in the absence of PhoP and PhoQ but which is slightly stimulated by these proteins. The pattern of transcriptional autoregulation was also observed at the protein level with anti-PhoP antibodies. In sum, autoregulation of the phoPQ operon provides several levels of control for the PhoP-PhoQ regulon. First, environmental signals would stimulate PhoQ to phosphorylate the PhoP protein that is produced at basal levels from the PhoP-PhoQ-independent promoter. Then, phospho-PhoP would activate transcription of phoPp1, resulting in larger amounts of PhoP and PhoQ and increased expression of PhoP-activated genes. A return to basal levels could be mediated by a posttranscriptional mechanism by which translation of the mRNA produced from phoPp1 is inhibited.

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