This study has identified horizontally acquired genomic regions of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 that regulate expression of the type III secretion (T3S) system encoded by the locus of enterocyte effacement (LEE). Deletion of O-island 51, a 14.93 kb cryptic prophage (CP-933C), resulted in a reduction in LEE expression and T3S. The deletion also had a reduced capacity to attach to epithelial cells and significantly reduced E. coli O157 excretion levels from sheep. Further characterization of O-island 51 identified a novel positive regulator of the LEE, encoded by ecs1581 in the E. coli O157:H7 strain Sakai genome and present but not annotated in the E. coli strain EDL933 sequence. Functionally important residues of ECs1581 were identified based on phenotypic variants present in sequenced E. coli strains and the regulator was termed RgdR based on a motif demonstrated to be important for stimulation of gene expression. While RgdR activated expression from the LEE1 promoter in the presence or absence of the LEE-encoded regulator (Ler), RgdR stimulation of T3S required ler and Ler autoregulation. RgdR also controlled the expression of other phenotypes, including motility, indicating that this new family of regulators may have a more global role in E. coli gene expression.
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