Bacterial virulence gene regulation: an evolutionary perspective

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2000;54:519-65. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.54.1.519.


Coevolution between bacteria and their plant or animal hosts determines characteristics of the interaction, the bacterial virulence genes involved, and the regulatory systems controlling expression of virulence genes. The long-standing association between Salmonellae and their animal hosts has resulted in the acquisition by Salmonella subspecies of a variety of virulence genes and the evolution of complex regulatory networks. The particular repertoire of virulence genes acquired by different Salmonella enterica subspecies and the regulatory systems that control them dictate subspecies-specific infection characteristics. Although the association between Vibrio cholerae and humans appears to be more recent, to reflect a simpler pathogenic strategy, and to involve fewer virulence genes than that of Salmonellae, complex virulence-regulatory networks have nonetheless evolved. In contrast, there is no evidence for acquisition of virulence genes by horizontal gene transfer in bordetellae, and their virulence regulon is less complex in overall structure than those of salmonellae and Vibrio cholerae. In Bordetellae, subspecies-specific differences in pathogenic strategy appear to result from differential gene expression within and across Bordetella subspecies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Bordetella / genetics
  • Bordetella / pathogenicity*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Salmonella / genetics
  • Salmonella / pathogenicity*
  • Vibrio cholerae / genetics
  • Vibrio cholerae / pathogenicity*
  • Virulence / genetics