Yersinia pestis, the cause of the disease plague, forms biofilms to enhance flea-to-mammal transmission. Biofilm formation is dependent on exopolysaccharide synthesis and is controlled by the intracellular levels of the second messenger molecule cyclic diguanylate (c-di-GMP), but the mechanisms by which Y. pestis regulates c-di-GMP synthesis and turnover are not fully understood. Here we show that the small RNA chaperone Hfq contributes to the regulation of c-di-GMP levels and biofilm formation by modulating the abundance of both the c-di-GMP phosphodiesterase HmsP and the diguanylate cyclase HmsT. To do so, Hfq co-ordinately promotes hmsP mRNA accumulation while simultaneously decreasing the stability of the hmsT transcript. Hfq-dependent regulation of HmsP occurs at the transcriptional level while the regulation of HmsT is post-transcriptional and is localized to the 5' untranslated region/proximal coding sequence of the hmsT transcript. Decoupling HmsP from Hfq-based regulation is sufficient to overcome the effects of Δhfq on c-di-GMP and biofilm formation. We propose that Y. pestis utilizes Hfq to link c-di-GMP levels to environmental conditions and that the disregulation of c-di-GMP turnover in the absence of Hfq may contribute to the severe attenuation of Y. pestis lacking this RNA chaperone in animal models of plague.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.