Background: The transcription regulator PhoP has been shown to be important for Y. pestis survival in macrophages and under various in vitro stresses. However, the mechanism by which PhoP promotes bacterial intracellular survival is not fully understood. Our previous microarray analysis suggested that PhoP governed a wide set of cellular pathways in Y. pestis. A series of biochemical experiments were done herein to study members of the PhoP regulon of Y. pestis biovar Microtus.
Results: By using gel mobility shift assay and quantitative RT-PCR, a total of 30 putative transcription units were characterized as direct PhoP targets. The primer extension assay was further used to determine the transcription start sites of 18 PhoP-dependent promoters and to localize the -10 and -35 elements. The DNase I footprinting was used to identify the PhoP-binding sites within 17 PhoP-dependent promoters, enabling the identification of PhoP box and matrix that both represented the conserved signals for PhoP recognition in Y. pestis. Data presented here providing a good basis for modeling PhoP-promoter DNA interactions that is crucial to the PhoP-mediated transcriptional regulation.
Conclusion: The proven direct PhoP targets include nine genes encoding regulators and 21 genes or operons with functions of detoxification, protection against DNA damages, resistance to antimicrobial peptides, and adaptation to magnesium limitation. We can presume that PhoP is a global regulator that controls a complex regulatory cascade by a mechanism of not only directly controlling the expression of specific genes, but also indirectly regulating various cellular pathways by acting on a set of dedicated regulators. These results help us gain insights into the PhoP-dependent mechanisms by which Y. pestis survives the antibacterial strategies employed by host macrophages.