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The Bartonella quintana Extracytoplasmic Function Sigma Factor RpoE Has a Role in Bacterial Adaptation to the Arthropod Vector Environment


Bartonella quintana is a vector-borne bacterial pathogen that causes fatal disease in humans. During the infectious cycle, B. quintana transitions from the hemin-restricted human bloodstream to the hemin-rich body louse vector. Because extracytoplasmic function (ECF) sigma factors often regulate adaptation to environmental changes, we hypothesized that a previously unstudied B. quintana ECF sigma factor, RpoE, is involved in the transition from the human host to the body louse vector. The genomic context of B. quintana rpoE identified it as a member of the ECF15 family of sigma factors found only in alphaproteobacteria. ECF15 sigma factors are believed to be the master regulators of the general stress response in alphaproteobacteria. In this study, we examined the B. quintana RpoE response to two stressors that are encountered in the body louse vector environment, a decreased temperature and an increased hemin concentration. We determined that the expression of rpoE is significantly upregulated at the body louse (28°C) versus the human host (37°C) temperature. rpoE expression also was upregulated when B. quintana was exposed to high hemin concentrations. In vitro and in vivo analyses demonstrated that RpoE function is regulated by a mechanism involving the anti-sigma factor NepR and the response regulator PhyR. The ΔrpoE ΔnepR mutant strain of B. quintana established that RpoE-mediated transcription is important in mediating the tolerance of B. quintana to high hemin concentrations. We present the first analysis of an ECF15 sigma factor in a vector-borne human pathogen and conclude that RpoE has a role in the adaptation of B. quintana to the hemin-rich arthropod vector environment.

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