Pyrimidine biosynthesis regulates the small colony variant and mucoidy in Pseudomonas aeruginosa through sigma factor competition

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Mucoidy due to alginate overproduction by the Gram-negative bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa facilitates chronic lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF). We previously reported that disruption in de novo synthesis of pyrimidines resulted in conversion to a nonmucoid small-colony variant (SCV) in the mucoid P. aeruginosa strain (PAO581), which has a truncated anti-sigma factor, MucA25, that cannot sequester sigma factor AlgU (AlgT). Here, we showed that supplementation with the nitrogenous bases uracil or cytosine in growth medium complemented the SCV to normal growth, and nonmucoidy to mucoidy, in these mucA25 mutants. This conversion was associated with an increase in intracellular levels of UMP and UTP suggesting that nucleotide restoration occurred via a salvage pathway. In addition, supplemented pyrimidines caused an increase in activity of the alginate biosynthesis promoter (PalgD), but had no effect on PalgU, which controls transcription of algU. Cytosolic levels of AlgU were not influenced by uracil supplementation, yet levels of RpoN, a sigma factor that regulates nitrogen metabolism, increased with disruption of pyrimidine synthesis and decreased after supplementation of uracil. This suggested that an elevated level of RpoN in SCV may block alginate biosynthesis. To support this, we observed that overexpressing rpoN resulted in a phenotypic switch to nonmucoidy in PAO581 and in mucoid clinical isolates. Furthermore, transcription of an RpoN-regulated promoter increased in the mutants and decreased after uracil supplementation. These results suggest that the balance of RpoN and AlgU levels may regulate growth from SCV to mucoidy through sigma factor competition for PalgD.

IMPORTANCE Chronic lung infections with P. aeruginosa are the main cause of morbidity and mortality in patients with cystic fibrosis. This bacterium overproduces a capsular polysaccharide called alginate (also known as mucoidy), which aids in bacterial persistence in the lungs and in resistance to therapeutic regimens and host immune responses. The current study explores a previously unknown link between pyrimidine biosynthesis and mucoidy at the level of transcriptional regulation. Identifying/characterizing this link could provide novel targets for the control of bacterial growth and mucoidy. Inhibiting mucoidy may improve antimicrobial efficacy and facilitate host defenses to clear the noncapsulated P. aeruginosa bacteria, leading to improved prognosis for patients with cystic fibrosis.


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