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RibU is an essential determinant of Listeria pathogenesis that mediates acquisition of FMN and FAD during intracellular growth

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Flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) are essential riboflavin-derived cofactors involved in a myriad of redox reactions across all forms of life. Nevertheless, the basis of flavin acquisition strategies by riboflavin auxotrophic pathogens remains poorly defined. In this study, we examined how the facultative intracellular pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, a riboflavin auxotroph, acquires flavins during infection. A L. monocytogenes mutant lacking the putative riboflavin transporter (RibU) was completely avirulent in mice but had no detectable growth defect in nutrient-rich media. However, unlike wild type, the RibU mutant was unable to grow in defined media supplemented with FMN or FAD or to replicate in macrophages starved for riboflavin. Consistent with RibU functioning to scavenge FMN and FAD inside host cells, a mutant unable to convert riboflavin to FMN or FAD retained virulence and grew in cultured macrophages and in spleens and livers of infected mice. However, this FMN- and FAD-requiring strain was unable to grow in the gallbladder or intestines, where L. monocytogenes normally grows extracellularly, suggesting that these sites do not contain sufficient flavin cofactors to promote replication. Thus, by deleting genes required to synthesize FMN and FAD, we converted L. monocytogenes from a facultative to an obligate intracellular pathogen. Collectively, these data indicate that L. monocytogenes requires riboflavin to grow extracellularly in vivo but scavenges FMN and FAD to grow in host cells.

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