Background: Haemophilus influenzae is a significant cause of childhood otitis media, and also has an absolute growth requirement for heme. Recent microarray studies using three H. influenzae isolates were used to propose a putative core of genes responsive to iron and heme levels. Included in the core modulon were thirty seven genes that are preferentially expressed under iron/heme limitation, most of which are directly involved with iron and or heme acquisition. In this report, the core iron/heme modulon was further refined following microarray analysis of two additional nontypeable H. influenzae isolates from patients with otitis media. The transcriptional status of the genes comprising the refined iron/heme core modulon was then assessed in vivo, in a chinchilla model of otitis media. These in vivo experiments were performed to address the hypothesis that iron and heme regulated genes are both highly expressed in vivo and important, during clinical infection.
Results: Microarray analysis of two additional H. influenzae strains resulted in the definition of a core of iron/heme responsive genes. This core consisted of 35 genes maximally expressed under heme restriction and a further 20 genes maximally expressed in heme replete conditions. In vivo studies were performed with two nontypeable H. influenzae strains, 86-028NP and HI1722. The majority of operons identified as members of the core modulon by microarray were also actively upregulated in the chinchilla ear during otitis media. In 86-028NP, 70% of the operons were significantly upregulated while in HI1722 100% of the operons were upregulated in samples recovered from the chinchilla middle ear.
Conclusion: This study elucidates a conserved core of H. influenzae genes the transcription of which is altered by the availability of iron and heme in the growth environment, and further assesses transcription of these genes in vivo. Elucidation of this modulon allows for identification of genes with unrecognized roles in iron/heme acquisition or homeostasis and/or potential roles in virulence. Defining these core genes is also of potential importance in identifying targets for therapeutic and vaccine designs since products of these genes are likely to be preferentially expressed during growth in iron/heme restricted sites of the human body.