Characterisation of p-nitrophenylglycerol-resistant Proteus mirabilis super-swarming mutants

J Med Microbiol. 2001 Dec;50(12):1039-1048. doi: 10.1099/0022-1317-50-12-1039.


p-Nitrophenylglycerol (PNPG) inhibits the co-ordinately regulated activities of swarming behaviour and virulence factor expression in Proteus mirabilis. The inhibitory action of PNPG was investigated by the isolation of Tn5 insertion mutants that could swarm, albeit with much reduced ability, in the presence of PNPG. The mutants exhibited a super-swarming phenotype in the absence of PNPG; i.e., they migrated further in a given time than did the wild-type cells. Cloning and sequence analysis of the mutants indicated that Tn5 was inserted into the rsbA gene, which may encode a membrane sensor histidine kinase of the bacterial two-component signalling system. In the absence of PNPG, the mutants exhibited several swarming-related phenotypes that were different from those of the wild type; they initiated swarming earlier and had a less conspicuous consolidation phase, they differentiated earlier and maintained a differentiated state for longer, they started to express virulence factors earlier and maintained high expression levels of these factors for longer, and they had higher cell invasion ability than the wild type. These mutant phenotypes could be complemented by a plasmid-borne copy of rsbA. Together, these data suggest that RsbA may act as a repressor of swarming and virulence factor expression. In the presence of PNPG, these rsbA-mutated mutants could still swarm, differentiate and express virulence factors, whereas the wild type could not, suggesting that PNPG may target RsbA or RsbA-regulated pathways to exert its inhibitory effect. Together, these data reveal a novel mechanism through which bacteria may negatively regulate swarming differentiation and virulence factor expression and identify a potential target of PNPG action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology*
  • Blotting, Southern
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Mutagenesis
  • Mutation
  • Nitrobenzenes / pharmacology*
  • Phenotype
  • Proteus mirabilis / drug effects*
  • Proteus mirabilis / genetics
  • Proteus mirabilis / pathogenicity*
  • Proteus mirabilis / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Virulence


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Nitrobenzenes
  • RsbA protein, Proteus mirabilis
  • 4-nitrophenylglycerol