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In vivo analysis of Chlamydia stress response

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Bacteria encode heat shock proteins that aid in survival during stressful growth conditions. In addition, the major heat shock proteins of the intracellular bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis have been associated with immune pathology and disease. We developed a ChIP-qPCR method to study the regulation of chlamydial heat shock gene regulation during an intracellular infection. This approach allowed us to show that chlamydial heat shock genes are regulated by the transcription factor HrcA within an infected cell, providing validation for previous in vitro findings. Induction of chlamydial heat shock gene expression by elevated temperature was due to loss of HrcA binding to heat shock promoters, supporting a mechanism of derepression. This heat shock response was rapid, whereas recovery of HrcA binding and return to non-stress transcript levels occurred more slowly. We also found that control of heat shock gene expression was differentially regulated over the course of the intracellular Chlamydia infection. There was evidence of HrcA-mediated regulation of heat shock genes throughout the chlamydial developmental cycle, but the level of repression was lower at early times. This is the first study of Chlamydia-infected cells showing the effect of an environmental signal on transcription factor-DNA binding and target gene expression in the bacterium.

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